The NFL's Public Relations Fumble

As a native Wisconsinite, cheesehead and Green Bay Packer fan, I was incensed by last Monday night’s fiasco. If you’ve been exposed to any media at all in the past week, then you’ve heard about the last few minutes of the Packers vs. Seahawks game. The way the game ended sparked an intense controversy over the replacement referees hired by the NFL during their contract dispute with the real NFL officials. (Many wondered if the refs had eye trouble, so a local Green Bay eye doctor offered free Lasik eye surgery to the refs.)

Not only did the NFL cause frustration for football fans, but they offered the public a first-hand lesson in crisis communications and public relations. Unfortunately, the NFL’s reputation has suffered because of the unqualified replacement referees.

When it comes to your brand’s PR and marketing, you always want to display credibility and gain your customers’ trust. Never jeopardize your brand if you can avoid it. Over time, mistakes are inevitable and being prepared allows for a faster reaction time. A quick and accurate response is critical, especially as today’s social media moves at lightning speed. It is wise for companies to have a crisis management plan and to update it annually.

Here are several steps to begin crafting a crisis management plan:

  1. Identify areas of vulnerability – Whether it is a product recall, a security breach or a lawsuit, brainstorm all the potential crises that could occur at your organization so you can plan how to handle them.
  2. Establish a crisis team – Determine a notification system to disseminate the information internally. You need to figure out who to notify and how to contact them.
  3. Gather a crisis communications team – Identify key individuals in your organization and assign their roles and responsibilities. We highly recommend conducting formal media training so spokespersons are well-prepared and practiced to speak publicly.
  4. Think about logistics – When a satellite van pulls into your parking lot, what do you do? Think about things like where you will host media or if you will have press kits available. Walk through the logistical details of handling the repercussions of a crisis.
  5. Determine key messages – Public relations staff can pre-draft messages and make templates for various crisis scenarios. Having messages already approved by legal counsel will save you time and stress during an actual event.

Even the best crisis management plan is not a quick-fix that solves every problem overnight. Companies should establish reputation repair strategies and continue with consistent communication.

This was clearly demonstrated as the outrage over the NFL replacement refs ended the lockout, returning the “real” refs to the NFL on Thursday. The lasting effects of the replacement officials can’t be undone, but football fans everywhere will wait to see how the NFL will restore their reputation. Perhaps a good crisis management plan could have avoided lasting damage.

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