How to Properly Handle Crisis in Sports? Hint - When You "Spin" You Don't Win


by Wesley Mallette 01-21-2010 01:41 AM

There is never a dull moment in the sports and entertainment world, and the beginning of 2010 was no exception.

A lot has happened in the first three weeks of this new decade.

We are doing what we can individually and collectively to help our fellow men, women and children in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Yet even in the midst of such horrific devastation and at a time when the entire planet is reaching out to help a country in peril, we still see classic cases of “foot in mouth” disease as Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh make us sit and wonder, “Wow, did they really just say that?”

We find ourselves Facebooking, texting, IM’ing, and Tweeting one another, SMH (well, shaking OUR heads) over these things. We await the outcome of Gilbert Arenas’ bid to create a new “Bring Your Guns to Work Day” or “C’mon Guys, I Was Just Playing” holiday , and all the while we say to ourselves, “If I had a $111 million dollar contract, I would…” Last week, we watched Mark McGwire and his carefully orchestrated “Okay, so I’m fooling no one here guys, but I really want this hitting instructor job... so guess it’s time to ‘fess up,' mea culpa.” We saw one of coaching’s most positive influences on young men, Pete Carroll, leave Southern California (and arguably the most coveted coaching position in college football at USC) to head to the Pacific Northwest and take the top coaching position for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. Then we saw the controversial Lane Kiffin depart from the University of Tennessee as quickly as he got there, to return to USC - where he coached under Carroll - and take the Trojans’ top post.

Speaking of college football, the debate (well, okay, what debate? Really, come on guys, who are we kidding here…) raged on as to whether the BCS is a “better option” than a college football playoff system, making believers out of umm…no one. That is unless of course you are one of the entities that benefits financially from the BCS. Interesting though, how the same influencers that sold us on that “weapons of mass destruction” concept and subsequent quandary we can’t seem to get out of, are trying to convince us that the BCS is good for college sports and that Big Mac’s steroid usage had “absolutely no impact whatsoever on his massive homerun totals.” That my friends, is called “spin,” and “spin” is trying to make people believe something that just isn’t true. You may think you’re getting by and you may fool some people initially, but over the long-term, when you spin, you will not win.

Which brings me to the point of today’s post.

For those who do not have a working knowledge of the public relations world, there is indeed a difference between “spinning” a story and being transparent in order to get your client’s point or position across and to ensure balance in any and all stories about your client. What’s the difference exactly?

There is a big difference and for the purpose of this post, we will deal with the crisis communications aspect of what to do when embroiled in controversial and less than favorable circumstances. Turning a potential negative into a positive does not mean you have to lie or “spin” a situation. Turning it around starts with telling the truth, being authentic, being honest, being responsible, and understanding that your consumers, fans, listeners, viewers, readers, shareholders, etc., will stand by and support you if you do not bullsh*t them. They will respect you more if you don’t lie, hide or try to run. Period. That is the essential first part of being strategic in your communications approach.

To “spin” is to understand those principles, yet decide you are still going to try to force your position down the throats of a caring and compassionate public and believe that the more you say it, the more they will eventually buy it. Problem is, the issue never really goes away because it hasn’t been handled properly. Media won’t let it go and there is a relatively bad taste left in everyone’s mouth because they just “feel” they were deceived, or at best, told “some of the truth.”

Don’t believe me? Ask Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds how their lack of true strategy and the platform of utter defiance worked out for them. Jose Canseco’s approach to telling the world baseball’s worst secrets was, well, not strategic, yet all of a sudden he’s now king of the “I told you so squad,” given all the recent apologies from the fallen icons of baseball’s media proclaimed “steroid era.”

Every client will experience a crisis of some magnitude at some point. It’s the job and the duty of seasoned public relations practitioners to guide them successfully through that crisis. In times of crisis, all may seem or appear lost, but having the right communications strategists at your service is critical to survival and ultimately, overcoming the issue. We can help guide you through what may be a somewhat painful process and get you to the other side of it.

Sometimes the news is really just flat out bad and you have to find ways to minimize the damage. Sometimes clients will feel the need to purge and put things out there that may damage a reputation or create a crisis. But that does not mean lying or telling half-truths is the answer. When you do that, everything will eventually unravel.

By its very nature, PR is a quiet, behind the scenes, very powerful tool. It is up to those of us in this field to be responsible architects of the messages and strategies we devise for our clients. We must be accountable to all publics impacted by our clients because we are responsible for managing the reputations of our clients and their relationships with all parties with a vested interest in their performance. There is no room for antiquated P.T. Barnum “public be fooled” thinking here. We must continue to be accountable to the shareholders, fans, media, consumers, etc., that rely on truth from the companies and individuals they invest in.

Professional and amateur sports often tend to be a “win at all costs” or at minimum, “win or go home” world. Athletes are human and will make mistakes. At some point, they will face a crisis. It is our job to guide them through adversity and get them safely to the other side. In doing that, we must continue to be smart, strategic, forward thinking, and transparent for our clients, and keep their best interests and their stakeholders best interest in mind.

“Spinning at all costs” is simply unacceptable. It will have you “looking’ like a fool with your pants on the ground!”


Published 01-20-2010 © 2022 Access Athletes, LLC


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