Archive for the ‘Crisis Communication’ Category

“Society prepares the crime, the criminal commits it” -Henry Thomas Buckle

One of the first times I spoke with Josh Gordon, director of Competition Not Conflict, we had a long conversation about my desired course of work. We exchanged thoughts on ‘athletes in crisis’ and the issue of crime in the NFL came up. Mr. Gordon discussed the loss of credibility of the NFL and its various players thanks to the high rate of crime amongst players of professional football teams. Although this post does not intend to ignore crimes committed by other athletes, I would like to draw attention to the fact that the NFL is overflowing with it.

“I am surprised at the way people seem to perceive me, and sometimes I read stories and hear things about me and I go “ugh.” I wouldn’t like her either. It’s so unlike what I think I am or what my friends think I am.” -Hillary Clinton

Public image is perhaps the most important thing for a professional athlete to think about promoting. After all, it’s obvious that this individual has the skills needed to get into the game. However, do they have the public savvy to stay there? This is probably the main reason I decided to pursue this very niche field. At the time, the University of Oregon was getting a lot of crap because some of the football team’s big names- Masoli, Blount, and James, were getting accused of starting fights, stealing, smoking, and abusing girlfriends. I myself, was as shocked as anyone else on campus. Here were good students and great athletes getting accused of these outrageous crimes- many of which turned out to be true. If you remember, Masoli actually ended up getting kicked off the team.
Generally, it’s not college athletes we see misbehaving- it’s professional athletes. Last year, Tiger Woods was discovered to have been having affairs with a number of other women. Just earlier this year, Brett Favresent pictures of his man parts to an NFL game host. Steroid use was really popular for a while, something that Alex Rodriguez and Lance Armstrong could attest to. And athletes were also attracted to other kinds of sports… Michael Vick and dog fighting, for example.
And while I’m not supporting a free pass for any of these guys, sometimes I think that these crises could have been handled better.
For example, I remember watching how Woods’ PR team was handling (or not handling) the Tiger Woods episode and thinking that I wish I knew a better way to fix the problem. Sadly, it’s not an easy fix. It’s not like when an athlete is about to go pro, they have to take a class in college called Playing Sports and Dealing With the Real World 101. Although maybe they should…
This is where my desired career path and Competition Not Conflict merge. In my mind, I think that athletes should all get assigned to publicists or PR teams that are specifically trained in conflict resolution and even more so, get trained to handle conflict resolution with athletes specifically. Also, CNC is currently developing some conflict prevention programs for athletes, something that’s also maybe even more useful than conflict resolution or crisis management-type work.
Athletes must be taught, from a young age, that they are not invincible and that the rules of society do apply to them- maybe even more so than the average-Joe. After all, these men and women are role models to children and to society at large. Having a good public persona is essential to gaining and keeping strong advertising contracts (look at how many Woods lost when that whole fiasco went down). But athletes also owe it to themselves to maintain healthy and happy lives outside of their sports. Taking steroids has a huge effect on physical health, domestic issues have a huge effect on an athlete’s performance (again, Woods’ post affair interviews and performances can be examined), and getting involved in crime makes an athlete look like nothing more than an elite thug.
Sadly, there is no easy fix for this issue and we’ll be examining it in bits and pieces on this blog throughout the year. At the beginning of the term, I breakfasted with an old friend of mine on campus. She was asking me about my internship this year and I was explaining to her what exactly I wanted to do. An older couple at the table next to us interrupted me and we all launched into a long conversation about athletes and their accountability as citizens at both the college and professional level. At the end of the conversation, the woman took my hands and said, “I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing. Those guys need someone like you.” I can only hope I can live up to what I say I can.
Next week, we’ll start breaking some of this down. Let’s start by talking about crime and athletes. Until then, cheers.

Let me just explain quickly that this will be  the first post of my blog’s face lift. Previously known as “The How To’s of PR Today,” I renovated it into a crisis management blog this morning, because I’ve been considering a future career in sports PR and yesterday, I think I brainstormed my niche– crisis management for athletes. Managing a crisis is tricky business to be sure, whether it’s in our own life or someone else’s, and many PR teams fail at it.

I am deeply grateful for the education I’m receiving through the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications, although I think if I were to add one class, it would be a risk communication 101 class. Everyone should know the basics of crisis management. I think the skills required for successful crisis management are related to those needed to solve conflict in real life. Therefore, here I am, practicing. Read my updated “Stats” section for more information. Now, onto Masoli…

As the PAC-10 expands, the Duck football team diminishes. Following his suspension in March after his participation in an alleged frat-house robbery, Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, a native of San Francisco, was caught this week with an ounce of marijuana in his glove compartment while driving with a suspended license and was promptly dismissed from the team. Although he’d had the opportunity to play for the Ducks during the 2011 season, that was ripped from him after the most recent infraction.

Coach Chip Kelly claims that he asked simply for Masoli and his teammates to behave. When Masoli showed that he couldn’t, Kelly could no longer keep him on the Ducks. Although Masoli has one season of eligibility of college football left, it remains to be seen about what will happen to him, particularly following his court date on June 24th.

So what can we learn from all this? From a PR perspective, I think Kelly’s quick decision to dismiss Masoli was well called for, especially after what happened in March. Masoli got his chance to behave, and when he failed to do so, Kelly put his foot down. Let it be a lesson to coach’s everywhere that no matter how good an athlete may be at his sport, it in no way entitles him to do whatever he wants and get away with it.

Secondly, there isn’t much Masoli can do other than live with what he did. Although he has one season of eligibility left, he’s walking a very narrow line. My recommendation would be for him to come out with a statement of regret and apology in regards to his actions. This would show fans that he is mature and that he cares about them. However, I believe this is up to the Oregon football department.

For us fans, it sucks. Masoli really was an incredible player and quarterback. In his year at Oregon playing starting quarterback, he completed 177 of 305 passes thrown for more than 2000 yards. His team looked up to him. His school looked up to him. And his fans looked up to him. He will be missed and he will be remembered for the things that he did– good and bad.

I won’t proclaim myself an expert on how to communicate risk. However, I will say that it is an area of interest. I am known for helping my friends and family solve their problems and, after I realized that, I also realized that maybe I could do that professionally. Also, as I lie in bed with a bad case of poison oak (risk of living out of town), I figured that risk communication would be a good thing to talk about. So, after some research, here’s my very basic guide to risk communication.

Let’s start out by defining risk communication. In it’s very basic sense, risk communication is prevention work; prevention against bad things happening. Of course, in life and in business bad things happen and we can’t avoid them all. (I have poison oak, remember?). If you get into a problem and then are trying to solve it after everything’s gone down, then you’re into crisis communication work, at least according to Peter Sandman, one of the experts in this field. But we’re not going to talk about crisis communication in this post- we’ll stick with prevention.

So here it goes, what I’ve learned about risk communication from Peter Sandman and the Center For Risk Communication about communicating risk goes as follows. What it comes down to, is that people have to feel like they can trust you. This gets down to the basics of communication. When discussing risk be caring and empathetic, be dedicated to solving the problem and be trustworthy and transparent.

People appreciate honesty in all types of communication, but in this kind in particular because of the sensitive nature of the discussion. Think about how you would want someone to communicate with you concerning a topic that you were sensitive to, and then turn that around.

It’s about kindness, everyone, and compassion. We’re all trying to help each other out, and in our uncertain world, a solid grasp about how to communicate bad things is of vital importance.