Ah, what would we do without Herman Cain and Rick Perry and their PR mishaps? They both should know better, At least Rick Perry made fun of himself, though I am not sure that is a source of comfort nor does it instill a sense of confidence for a presidential candidate.

Herman Cain just doesn’t get it – I mean he really doesn’t get it – I mean he really doesn’t know what he is talking about. His most recent pause when discussing Libya was painful to watch. This lapse, on top of the harassment accusations, is rich soil for PR professionals, news professionals, and comedians.

If you really think about it, aspiring politicians are faced with the same central task as marketing pros selling or launching a product – it is about brand building and developing brand loyalty. PR, social or traditional is fundamental to that task. There is the logo, the packaging, the online support, and print ads. But perhaps, nothing is as important as public relations.

The PR dilemma Penn State faces is tragic for a number of reasons, but certainly, is a prime example of how not to handle a crisis. In the short term, the Penn State brand is toast. Perhaps, after time, with perspective, and the assistance of the recently appointed crisis management firm – the brand will garner the respect it once had. Too bad they didn’t listen to their own PR professor who offered his advice as outlined in yesterday’s article USA Today by Andy Gardiner:

“The golden rule of public relations is you have to get something out in the first 60 minutes,” Steve Manuel said Tuesday during a guest appearance in professor Mike Poorman’s class, “Joe Paterno, Communications and the Media.” “And mentioning the victims always comes first. “Bad news doesn’t get better with time. When you cede the message to (critics or adversaries), you lose the battle.”

The PR lessons here are pretty simple and have stood the test of time.

– There is no escaping a news cycle that is now 24-7

– Have a plan in place – always, to prevent needless scrambling (because your scrambling will be played out in public, definitely something to avoid)

– If there is a crisis, address it immediately

– Your message needs to be the first one that the outside world sees – otherwise the media will tell your story for you.

The bottom line? Public relations can lead to great success and also destroy great brands and personal dreams. If utilized correctly, it can propel personal achievement, energize a cause and even bring a country together.

It is one of the oldest communication tools around, yet still trips up the best of us.