Most PR pros are eager to promote their clients’ interests—but not when it
lands them in legal hot water.
Such is the lesson that Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Donald
Trump, is learning.
On Thursday, Conway appeared on Fox News to talk about Trump’s response to
Nordstrom’s decision to pull his daughter’s clothing line from its shelves.
In the interview, Conway promoted the brand—violating an ethics rule that
restricts government employees from making endorsements.
"Go buy Ivanka's stuff, is what I would tell you," Conway said. "It's a
wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully -- I'm going to just, I'm going
to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it
The comments could run afoul with federal law that bars public employees
from making an "endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for
the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee
is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity."
Here’s the interview:
Keep cool in a crisis with these tips.]
Boycott, declining sales push retailers to dump Ivanka Trump’s line
Conway’s comments came after both
Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus announced that they would no longer be carrying Ivanka Trump’s merchandise.
Both brands cited poor performance as the reason for the decision, rather
than a political statement, but the move has caused many to praise the
Celebrities have taken to Twitter to post their recent Nordstrom shopping sprees, too. Consumers rallying
behind the companies are part of a boycott called #GrabYourWallet:
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump tweeted that his daughter was “treated so unfairly” by Nordstrom:
The move prompted some to wonder how Trump will deal with other retailers
that make similar decisions.
The New York Times
Mr. Trump’s complaint also raised questions about how he might handle the
moves of numerous other companies as their relationships with Trump brands
change. The large national discount retailers T. J. Maxx and Marshalls, and
Neiman Marcus, the luxury department store, for example, have recently
taken steps to give less prominence to Ms. Trump’s products.
White House’s terse response
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Conway has been “counseled on
that subject,” but he refused to offer additional information:
Conway kept played her comments close to the vest as well, following the
misstep. MSN reported:
Speaking on Fox News Thursday evening, Conway declined to comment but said
Trump supports her “100 percent.”
“All I can say to America’s women is, at some point in your life, you ought
to have a boss who treated me like the president of the United States
treated me today,” she said.
Though Spicer didn’t say much, MSN reported: “The White House reaction was
a rare acknowledgment of an ethical misstep.”
However, the nod to a mistake might not be enough.
Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee,
sent a letter to the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics,
Walter Shaub Jr. The letter read, in part:
The incident was the latest illustration of how the Trump White House has
struggled to grapple with long-established ethics rules as the president
has attempted to balance the potentially competing interests of his new
public position and his family’s vast business holdings.
… Although Trump has said that most ethics laws and rules do not apply to
the president, Conway’s stumble Thursday served as a reminder that staffers
are nonetheless subject to those provisions.
The incident also serves as a reminder to PR pros in all industries to
ensure they do not cross ethical boundaries when speaking on behalf of a
client or organization. Communicators risk creating a crisis—or
exacerbating an ongoing firestorm—if they don’t watch what they say.