Communications strategists love to talk about "rapid response" as a way to quell unpleasant news and get their clients back in control of the message and debate. But we've seen this week that there is such a thing as a too-rapid response.
Regardless of which political filter you apply to the Shirley Sherrod story, it seems clear that White House staff enjoyed a brief moment of believing they had applied the art of rapid response to great success. As we all know now, that response was based on incomplete information and made a bad situation far, far worse.
Here's Ben Smith on Politico discussing an alleged celebration as the story was still unfolding: www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0710/In_meeting_Messina_praised_Sherrod_handling.html
It's quite against the fashion in communications circles, but each year I become a bigger believer in the tactic of taking a deep breath and giving the ground a moment to stop shaking before plunging into action. There are times when you can't afford do this, but not as many as your consultant will lead you to believe.
After all, your communications team is getting paid to communicate... waiting and seeing might be the right move, but that doesn't look as good on an invoice.
In the face of a looming crisis, everything suggest the need for action. Get out there with your message. Hold a press conference. Issue a statement. Fire somebody. Fight back fast. But when these tactics are employed with incomplete information, it's like fighting in the dark. There's a good chance most of the damage you inflict will be on yourself.