PR Lesson 2: Hillary Clinton and the Threat of a Secondary Crisis

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These days both the mainstream and social media are abuzz about Hillary Clinton and her email scandal. Despite this crisis not being over for her, some worthwhile PR lessons are emerging.

One of the more overlooked risks that sprang from the Clinton e-mail saga is the secondary crisis, that is, a separate crisis spinning out of an initial crisis. In Clinton’s case, the primary crisis was her use of a private server. The secondary crisis arose when certain media outlets alleged that Datto Inc., the corporation responsible for backing backed up her emails, had lax security.


  1. Hillary Clinton used both a personal email and private server during her time as Secretary of State to send, receive, and store emails.
  2. Her acts were in violation of federal regulations, which require state employees to use government email accounts for all “day-to-day” official communication.
  3. The server was apparently not secure.
  4. In a recent article in The Daily Mail entitled “Exclusive: Open Doors, no checkpoints and a dumpster waiting to be rifled through–security farce at ‘data fortress’ run by company that held Hillary Clinton’s emails,” journalists from the publication made several allegations:
  • Datto Inc. stored Hillary Clinton’s emails, some of which contained classified information, when it backed up her private server.
  • Datto claims it runs “data fortresses” monitored by security 24 hours a day, where only a retinal or palm scan allows access to its facilities.
  • Contrary to the company’s assertion that its facilities are akin to fortresses, Datto’s building in Bern Township, Pennsylvania, doesn’t have a perimeterfence or security checkpoints and has two reception areas.
  • Dumpsters at the site were left open and unguarded, and loading bays had no security presence.
  • No one from Datto was available for comment when the newspaper contacted them (could possibly be read as “no comment”).


A number of key lessons can be learned from the report generated by The Daily Mail, particularly for companies that provide services and solutions to other companies:

  1. You should monitor events and issues that your clients, partners and suppliers are dealing with on a daily basis, as you need to be prepared in case you are sucked into their crisis.
  2. As soon as you are aware that a client could become drawn into a potential crisis or an explosive situation, contact your client for a briefing, if possible.
  3. Then, based on the information you have received, immediately determine your risk.
  4. Activate your own crisis management and communications teams if necessary.
  5. Determine, based on the situation, if a proactive or reactive response to the crisis is appropriate.
  6. Implement your crisis plan based on your predetermined protocols. If the effective daily operation of your business will be impacted, activate your business continuity plan.
  7. Craft your messaging for internal and external audiences based on the issues and allegations.
  8. Depending on the situation, proactively communicate to curtail the rumor mill and to correct factual errors and negative perceptions.
  9. Respond promptly and appropriately to all media inquiries.
  10. Once the crisis is deemed over, contact all affected parties for a post crisis debrief.



The objective of this article is not to:

  • Accuse or allege that either Hillary Clinton or Datto Inc. have done anything wrong: that is for the federal authorities and various law enforcement agencies to determine.
  • Side with the Daily Mail concerning their findings, accusations or allegations that Datto Inc. were in the wrong or did anything wrong: that is for the Daily Mail and Datto Inc. to work out.
  • Assume that the Daily Mail got all their facts correct: that is also for the publication and Datto Inc. to sort out.

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NOTE: PR Lessons are condensed knowledge-sharing articles from Fortress Strategic Communications. Each lesson seeks to share important insights and objective opinions on newsworthy and not-so-newsworthy events. They are posted in numerical order and not ranked by order of importance.

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Based in Syracuse, N.Y., Fortress Strategic Communications provides specialized strategic public relations and crisis communications consulting to companies that offer products, services, and solutions designed to manage and mitigate all types of risk. The company draws on their executives’ combined 20 years of global experience in a broad array of vertical markets. For more information please visit

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