In the world of political communications, we always anticipate the worst case scenario for a client. In fact, on a number of occasions, I have been known to use the following example to explain the type of attacks clients and candidates can expect from their opponents: “One day, you’ll get accused of kicking a puppy down the street by one of your neighbors.”

Well… South Dakota Kristi Noem took that example and ran with it. In case you have missed the story that’s taken the internet by storm, Noem wrote in her latest book about an instance where her 14-month-old puppy Cricket acted like a puppy. It was difficult to train, excitable, and had a knack for chomping on chickens. So, in her own words, she took Cricket out to the gravel pit and shot it.

It’s a story that is horrifying to the average American who could never imagine inflicting pain on any animal, yet alone killing a puppy. Noem’s story is also a tale that can teach candidates and their consultants alike some very important lessons when it comes to communicating with the general masses.

Tone is Everything

We know in the grand scheme of things that the world isn’t always as black and white – Old Yeller taught us that. When a rural farm family who despaired over killing their dog who had contracted rabies while protecting the family from Wolves. It’s a story of heartache and of necessity seen in rural communities. We’ve seen similar instances of horses being “put out of their misery” when accidents are too severe for medical intervention.

In the case of Noem, her descriptions of the situation paint an eager puppy who didn’t listen to commands and ultimately, annoyed its owner to the point that the gravel pit was an easy choice after it had attacked a few chickens.

Tone can be the difference between what is perceived as a heartbreaking decision and a callous act of ridding oneself of a nuisance.

Your Experiences Aren’t Always Shared Experiences

The realities of growing up and living life in America are vastly different where you live. Whether you’re rich or poor, young or old, rural or urban, north or south, east or west, we all grew up living vastly different lives and having different shared experiences.

Life on the farm is vastly different from the average upbringing of those who live in urban and suburban areas – and as a result, they don’t always understand the realities of living on a farm and the way farmers view animals.

As a rancher in rural South Dakota, Noem may view animals as part of a larger ecosystem that needs to be run and operated in a certain fashion and has worked well for other rural ranchers for hundreds of years. But, it’s not an experience that those who have not lived that life will understand. As a result, added context and backstory needs to be provided in order to give a full picture of the situation. Without it, you can end up in the situation that Noem has found herself in now.

Communications Teams are the Gate Keepers

For communications teams out there, know this: YOU are the gatekeepers to your principal. Every word, action, decision, and public-facing post that has or will be created should always be run by you first. It is your responsibility to provide an outsider’s perspective to their thoughts and agenda – and that includes books.

It’s not the first time we have worked with candidates who have written books on a number of topics. But we always try to get as much advance notice as possible to know what pitfalls we’ll face, where we can provide additional context, and where we can block and tackle as needed. Having access early on can prevent situations from arising and saving time and work down the line.

Some Stories Don’t Need to be Told

At the end of the day, there is one rule that surpasses them all: some stories don’t need to be told. A person’s life will be made up of millions of snapshots that provide context and insight into who they are and how they became the person you see today.

The story of Cricket’s sad and unfortunate demise did nothing to contribute to Noem’s life story or how it shaped her as a person or a politician. While there are suggestions this story was shared as a means to show strength of character in challenging times, I’m guessing Noem has a number of those in her back pocket – especially as a rancher and woman in politics.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a sorority hazing you went through during rush week or Cricket, sometimes we need to remind the individuals in our lives that some stories don’t need to be told.

Just remember that life happens, good and bad stories come and go – but how we choose to portray ourselves will forever follow us. That’s why it’s important to have good communications staff around you who will help principals and candidates alike make the best choices when it comes to communicating their story.

-Preya Samsundar, Communications Director