Why are we still talking about deflated footballs days before the Super Bowl? Best in class public relations, expert crisis communications, and expert media relations can be personified by not letting a little issue grow into a big issue.
If a small weed grows in my garden, I pull it right away so it doesn’t grow into a bigger weed with deep roots that sucks the life out of everything around it. Corporations and football teams alike need to wake up and realize that same metaphor applies to nipping a small crisis in the bud rather than letting it grow.
Deflate Gate started on Sunday, January 18, 2015. Here we are 10 + days later still talking about it.
The reason the crisis lingers is because days passed before coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady even spoke about this little crisis that has grown into a public relations black eye. This isn’t surprising, but it is bush league. We see corporations do it all the time. We’ve seen the NFL do it all season. Usually, behind the scene there are lawyers who presumably believe they are protecting their clients. Meanwhile, the court of public opinion is convicting their client, damaging both reputation and revenue.
The sooner you address a small crisis, the sooner it goes away so you can focus on what is most important.
The longer you let a crisis go unaddressed, the more it becomes a distraction to the things that are important.
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“Fixing” people like Lynch is what I’ve done behind the scenes for organizations since 1996. People are dumbfounded when they find out I make a living by training people to be comfortable when talking to the media. But as a former reporter who has witnessed people say dumb things to me on too many days, I decided there were things I could share to help people get comfortable and say the right thing to a reporter.
Here’s what I’ve learned…
A situation like Lynch’s requires much more than a Washington, D.C. or New York City spin doctor who wants to throw out their conventional “three key messages.” They usually provide lessons on how to stay on message and how to bridge back to their messages if a reporter gets you off track.
Many executives will confess secrets to me in confidence during media interview training. These confessions help me work through issues, such as past speech impediments, being an introvert, or having a personality based upon humility rather than bragging.
The rules for athletes, from professional football players to golfers, are the same.
Here are 5 tips:
#1 Invest time and money
Investing time and money to learn these skills is money well spent. The first question I ask of each trainee in my media training classes is, “If you could attach a dollar to every word you say, would you make money or lose money?” In fact, Chapter 2 of my book, Don’t Talk to the Media, Until…, is called The Big If. It addresses the value of a good or bad interview. The NFL obviously sees an interview as being worth at least $100,000. I wish corporations fined their executives each time one of them dodged a media interview.
#2 This isn’t your main job
For athletes and executives alike, doing media interviews is NOT your primary job and is NOT what you are an expert in. We get it. But like it or not, it IS part of your job. Like anything else in life that you have to do, you should do it well. Football players should understand they need an expert media training coach, just like each player needs a coach (or coaches) to help them be a better player. Rather than turning to an expert in media training, many rely on their agents for interview coaching. These agents have never been reporters and truly do not understand the complexities of the media and the best ways to master an interview.
#3 Is it too late now to fix this?
Preparation is the key to success. Football teams get to the Super Bowl when they start practicing in the off-season and continue to practice daily. Lynch should have invested significant time and money to fix his issues during the off-season. Trying to fix it the week of the Super Bowl is crazy. He should have addressed this a year ago when the NFL first levied their fines.
#4 Is there a way to simplify media interviews?
Yes. Simplifying what you want to say before an interview is the correct way to succeed. It is better than just standing there in front of a barrage of reporters asking mindless questions. Keep in mind, that at Super Bowl media day, the media just get stupid, by asking mindless questions and trying to pull stunts and gags. The dumb media represent the NFL’s acknowledgement that they want as much free press as humanly possible. I’d rather see reporters at media day be vetted so that only serious sports reporters are asking serious sports questions to serious athletes.
#5 Think like a reporter
Regardless of the type of media you face, the interview process can be simplified. It begins by thinking like a reporter. Each reporter is looking for a headline, a synopsis sentence, and a good quote.
If that is what the reporters want, the players should each be coached and ready to speak just like that: Give the headline, give a synopsis of what you want to talk about, then give a quote.
Is this easy?
No, not really. It is really hard work to make something simple, which is why you should seek out an expert coach to help you.
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Don’t set me off. I’m a cynic. The NFL crisis and its flawed communications strategy continues to set off the cynic in me. A huge part of my crisis communications plan strategy and the crisis management advice provided to my clients is based upon understanding how to effectively communicate to the cynics.
Sunday night the NFL crisis and the failures of Roger Goodell were not on my mind. I was watching Sunday Night Football on NBC with my wife and enjoying a Sazarac – yes, Saints, Sunday and Sazaracs. (I wish we had won the game.) My goal was to be entertained.
Without the crisis on my mind, a public service announcement ran for an organization called NoMore.org. The campaign originated in 2013, but the NFL played the public service announcement during the game in an effort to “fight domestic violence.”
What did the cynic in me think? Cover-up. White washing. Trying to cover you’re a**. You screwed up and now you’re trying to make us think you’re doing something.
The crisis was not on my mind. Great job Goodell because you just put it back on my mind. Also, my mind isn’t thinking about victims. My mind is thinking about a failure of leadership.
I’ve thought the same thing about all of the commercials BP ran following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and crisis. The cynic in the oil spill crisis wonders just how much BP spent telling the world they are not the negligent company that they’ve been proven to be in a court of law. While BP says they’ve made things right, my sources say the marshes of Louisiana still have a lot of BP oil that has never been cleaned up.
The bottom line is:
1) Fix your problems to prevent a crisis from happening
2) Address your crisis quickly so there is never a cover-up
3) Say you are sorry to the people you have harmed
4) Don’t brag about how well you allegedly said you are sorry… especially when you have failed to fully address the crisis and the real problem.
For the NFL the problem is not domestic violence. The NFL problem is one man at the top who doesn’t know how to properly investigate a domestic violence case and properly punish a guilty player.
When you brag about the wrong thing, you set me off. Don’t set me off.
What expert would advise their client to let a crisis drag on for one year? I suspect the answer is zero. But the NFL’s failure at crisis management and crisis communications essentially means that the punch Ray Rice threw on Valentine’s Day 2014 will have repercussions through February 14, 2015. Here is why and here is how you can keep from making similar mistakes where you work.
1) Failure to fully investigate the Ray Rice case, or a willful attempt to hide all of the facts by officials in the NFL and/or the Ravens, have already caused this crisis to drag out six months longer than necessary. Speed is always your friend in crisis management and crisis communication and it should be a vital part of your written plan. As TMZ pointed out with their video and through their questions at the recent Roger Goodell news conference, it wasn’t very hard to get the facts and evidence.
2) Failure to do the right thing the first time will always haunt you and will cause the crisis to reignite. Just think about it — the Ray Rice case could have been finished by March 1, 2014. Here we are approaching October 1, 2014, and it is still front-page news. This is unacceptable and unprofessional. This demonstrates the NFL doesn’t have a crisis management or crisis communications plan that they follow. This demonstrates that the person at the top lacks true leadership qualities because a good leader would not allow the organization’s brand, reputation, and revenue to be tarnished over eight months.
3) Failure to do the right thing the first time and the eventual re-ignition of the crisis causes the media and others to ask, “What else might we not know? What might they be hiding? What don’t they want us to know?” Those were the questions I asked when I was a reporter. Once a reporter starts digging, it is like pulling a thread on a sweater – eventually it all unravels. The unraveling in this crisis is the additional focus. Scrutiny and penalties have been placed on other players who were previously not clumped in with the Rice case, but who have their cases tainted because of poor crisis management and flawed executive decision making.
4) When the threads unravel, it becomes safer for those who are holding secrets to come forward. This is what led to the ESPN report alleging the Ravens knew everything about the Rice case and allegations that the Ravens worked to have Goodell go easy on Rice. Although the Ravens refute the ESPN report, you can bet ESPN is doubling down on their investigative reporting. As a result, don’t be surprised if this crisis reignites again very soon.
5) Goodell made a further mistake by announcing that by the Super Bowl in February 2015, committees will make recommendations about the consistency of punishment for players and will report on the true status of domestic violence among players. This means Goodell is tainting and overshadowing Super Bowl coverage with an extension of a negative story. This is just dumb. This is intentionally stretching out brand damage, reputational damage, and revenue damage. No smart leader would tie a crisis-related deadline to the most high profile day associated with your organization.
6) Saying you got it wrong is a start, but it is not enough. The reason it is not enough is because there is no plausible reason to have gotten it wrong the first time. Furthermore, throwing money at anti-domestic violence organizations appears to be an insincere act of desperation and diversion. Also, the cynical minds in the audience believe Goodell and team owners, who used the “We got it wrong” line, were really saying, “We got caught and we regret that we got caught,” not doing the right thing, for the right reasons, the first time.
7) Trust is lost when bad decisions are made in the beginning, when flip-flops happen months later, and when the crisis is extended by bad decision-making. When sponsors drop their sponsorship, it means they have lost trust. When customers spend less on merchandise and are less likely to watch games, the lack of trust is amplified. Don’t forget your loss of trust with employees. In this case, Goodell has lost the trust of players.
A few weeks ago when this crisis became front-page news, I called for Goodell to be suspended for one year. This was for the same reason he suspended Saints coach Sean Peyton for a year, based on the concept that the leader should have known what was going on in the organization.
But in light of the seven items outlined above and Goodell’s failure to show leadership in managing and terminating this crisis, my professional advice to the team owners would be to fire Goodell. He has hurt your brand, your reputation and your revenue. Surely there is someone else who can do a better job this time and in the future.
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The NFL has appointed a panel of women to advise them on domestic abuse. Is this a viable crisis management strategy? Is it a viable crisis communication or crisis management strategy?
Actually, it has made the crisis worse because it kicks the decision can down the road. It has also drawn criticism because three of the four panelists are white and one is black, while in the NFL, the majority of players are black.
My observation is that this is a weak attempt by Roger Goodell to appear he has taken action, when in fact, his inaction from the onset of the Ray Rice crisis has cost a bevy of other aspects of the crisis. He has caused more players being placed under scrutiny, more teams being forced to make very public decisions, and sponsors pulling out of the NFL.
The fans are smart enough to know this is not a solution to the ongoing crisis. If only the NFL leadership were as smart as their fans.
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As the communication silence continues from the NFL, everyone wants to know when the crisis will end. Kate Delaney called Gerard Braud for his expert opinion on the crisis.
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It is pitiful that sponsors have to force the NFL to make decisions about this crisis based on hard cash.
A good leader and a strong company would evaluate the potential damage to revenue and reputation at the onset of the crisis, leading them to make the right executive decisions. Then they should implement crisis communication techniques to let the world know that the crisis is being managed.
If you are in public relations, employee communications, or corporate communications, this is a case study you should observe so that these same poor crisis decisions never happen where you work.
The NFL crisis gets bigger in the absence of crisis management, crisis communications and good executive leadership.
Adrian Peterson and a string of other players and teams are being swept up in the crisis because as the appointed leader of the NFL, Roger Goodell failed to make the right decisions at the beginning of the Ray Rice crisis.
Expert crisis management and crisis communications involves having a plan of action that fully addresses the potential damage to an institution’s reputation and revenue. The slower an institution is to respond, the more the crisis spreads and the more damage to reputation and revenue.
What about where you work? Do your leaders have a crisis management and crisis communications plan? Do the people with the high titles possess true leadership qualities, especially in a crisis?
Most institutions fail to have a plan that would truly serve their needs in a crisis. Many have a few sheets of paper in a binder that states some standard operating procedures. These are comfort plans – they make people feel good because the word crisis plan is on a piece of paper. But experience shows that most institutions fail to write the type of deep crisis communications plan needed to handle every type of crisis they may face.
Most institutions fail to consider both emergency type crises as well as the smoldering ethical issues within the organization.
Many executives are in denial early in a crisis and throughout the crisis, as they hope and pray it will go away. Hope is not a crisis communications strategy. I believe in the power of prayer, but I also believe that your actions during a crisis can be guided by a crisis communications plan so you can eliminate the need for prayer.
The reality is, the longer it lingers, the worse it gets.
Eventually reputation and revenue are damaged significantly enough that someone at the top gets fired.
Because Goodell has been weak, the crisis has spread to other teams and players, causing sponsors to pull out or threaten to pull out.
My prediction is the NFL owners will soon be calling for Goodell to resign.
Will this kind of failure to lead in a crisis happen someday where you work? It doesn’t have to if you prepare for it with a crisis communications plan and conduct regular drills that role-play various types of crises, especially those that deal with hard moral and ethical decisions.
Good crisis communications and crisis management should never be based on spontaneous decisions and strategies in the midst of your crisis. Good crisis communications and crisis management is derived from writing strong plans on a clear sunny day.
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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell missed a crisis management and crisis communications opportunity to end the Ray Rice crisis. Sunday should have been the day Roger Goodell announced to the world that he would be suspending himself for one year. It would have displayed leadership in a crisis. It would have been communications that managed and ended the crisis.
What? Why? Is this the best expert advice that crisis managers and crisis communicators counselors could make?
Consider this — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for one year because even though he didn’t know that his defensive coach was running a bounty program for defensive players. Payton received a one-year suspension because Goodell said that as the head coach, it happened on Payton’s watch. Payton, as the top leader, was held responsible by Goodell
So, many call for Goodell to be fired and Goodell goes into classic executive denial, diversion and potential cover-up about what he knew. The best way for him to end the current crisis would be to suspend himself on the grounds that the Rice incident happened on his watch. If someone within the NFL had video of the punch in the elevator and Goodell didn’t see it, then by default, Goodell is as guilty as Payton.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
If we learn Goodell did know about the video, or saw the video, and/or was told by Ray Rice about the punch, yet faile
d to sere Rice his harsh penalty until the world saw the punch video, then we have a classic case of leadership failure in a crisis. We have a case of an executive acting one way toward others, yet having different rules for himself. We have a case of an executive who was wishing it would all go away, but who was forced to respond differently when the world learned more.
Crisis management requires good ethics and good ethical decisions. Expert crisis management only happens with the executive’s words and actions are one in the same. Are the executive’s actions congruent with his or her words? When they are, the executive is a leader. When they are not congruent, the executive fails to be a leader.
The more I watch this crisis the more I expect it to get worse. When a crisis is allowed to smolder this long it results only in more damage to reputation and revenue. Experts will tell you that the faster you end the crisis, the faster revenue and reputation are restored.
Leadership in a crisis happens when hard decisions are made quickly. A self-suspension is a great compromise shy of Goodell being fired. If Goodell fails to take a bold step, then his job is one the line, as it should be, for failing at crisis management and crisis communications
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What is your plan when the crisis of another entity becomes your crisis, forcing upon you a crisis communications challenge? Observe the NFL crisis as it spreads, causing damage to the reputation and revenue of various teams, players and sponsors.
You would think the NFL would have an inside or outside expert to advise them, but apparently the leadership is trying to manage this on their own, with bad results.
The NFL crisis has spread to the Minnesota Vikings, as sponsor Radisson pulls its support. Radisson is the logo sponsor seen behind the coaches and players when they have news conferences. It is the place where Adrian Peterson’s coach and general manager stood to announce that Peterson would play this coming Sunday, even though he was benched after being charged with felony child abuse for reportedly using a switch on his four-year-old son.
Radisson, likely fearing “guilt by association,” is a victim of failed crisis management and crisis communications by the NFL and Roger Goodell regarding Ray Rice. The crisis then went on to touch the Vikings, Peterson and now the hotel chain.
Had Goodell originally handled the Rice crisis properly, the league would not be under such heavy scrutiny for other players with various degrees of accusations of child or domestic abuse. Failure to manage the crisis then communicate the action plan is letting the smoldering crisis spread like a wild fire. Many people are getting burned.
Now the NFL has a bigger crisis than the original crisis. There are the allegations surrounding Rice and Peterson, as well as Ray Hardy of the Carolina Panthers and Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers.
Each player, each franchise, and the sponsors surrounding the teams, all need a crisis management plan and a crisis communications plan that will end each of their respective crises before each suffers damage to reputation and revenue.
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