Tag Archives: branding

Jason Collins: “The Announcement Should be Mine to Make, Not TMZ’s”

Today, history was made. Jason Collins dominated headlines and raked in Twitter followers by becoming the first openly gay active athlete. He opened up to the world this morning as Sports Illustrated‘s May 6 issue hit newsstands, bearing his fearless smile on the cover.

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“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” Collins’ confessional byline begins, “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.”

This is a huge moment in sports, politics and American culture. In his debut piece, the seven-foot center and free agent notes that while he’s been struggling with the decision for nearly two years, it was the recent Boston Marathon bombing that made him realize that he shouldn’t wait for the circumstances to be perfect.

My initial reaction to the news was an overwhelming sense of joy. I celebrate Collins’ courage to be himself in a situation that doesn’t make it easy. People face this dilemma every day, and the struggles that Collins experienced (and will likely continue to experience) every day, but not everyone is a public figure. One of my favorite lines Collins wrote reads, “The announcement should be mine to make, not TMZ’s.”

In public relations, so much of what we do is finding ways to control the message. Making sure that the right audience sees and hears the right message. I know it may sound terrible, but when I saw a free agent announce his sexual orientation in an exclusive cover of Sports Illustrated, I thought…this is strategic PR. But Collins’ article put my accusations to rest. He is so unmistakably honest. It is easy to feel compassionate towards someone who bares everything, knowing that by doing so, he is welcoming criticism. By the end, I had forgotten all the motives I thought lay behind the swarm of publicity and felt closer to a man I never even considered cheering for.

…and that’s the beauty of PR and branding – if it’s good, you think the message was your own idea!

With that, I’ll leave you with an insightful and supportive tweet from the one and only Fortune Felmster, comedian best known for her regular appearances on Chelsea Lately:

FortuneTweetforCollins

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Taking Back the Past

On Monday, Nike announced it has pulled its “Boston Massacre” shirts in light of the recent Boston bombings. The shirts were originally designed to commemorate the Yankees’ series sweeps of the Red Sox in 1978 and 2006, which ended playoff hopes on both occasions. Nike was forced to make a statement after David Letterman Producer Eric Stangel’s tweet of a photo of the shirt in stores, calling out the insensitivity, went viral.

Eric Stangel Tweet

And this isn’t the first time this has happened…this year. In February, Nike discontinued the campaign promoting sponsored paralympian Oscar Pistorius that revolved around the saying, “I am the bullet in the chamber” after the athlete was charged with fatally shooting his girlfriend.

While the slogans seem unfortunate in hindsight, at the time of creation they probably seemed like pure genius. What’s done is done, and Nike not only responded in the right way, by absorbing all loses and removing messaging that could be misinterpreted, the athletic company also resolved the issue in a timely and respectful way.

Excluding the perpetrators themselves, no one could have predicted either tragedy. It’s important for brands to be aware of all interpretations of their messages no matter when the message what created, just as it is important for consumers to be understanding of true intentions.

As a graduate of the University of Nike, I must disclose that I have been, and forever will be, a Nike fan. Nike’s recent display of compassion and sensitivity only reinforces my love for the brand.

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Suspending World Peace?

Huffington Post Sports reported yesterday that Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) was ejected from last night’s Lakers-Thunder game for a “flagrant foul 2” when he elbowed James Harden of Oklahoma City.

Late in the second quarter, World Peace raced across the court to dunk on Kevin Durant. An exciting play…and even more noteworthy due to the events following. In celebrating his dunk, World Peace backed up, facing the crowd, beating his chest. He payed no mind to Harden standing behind him after his dunk and his elbow flew right into Harden’s head. Immediately following, a fight nearly broke out among the players. While the refs were deliberating the consequences of the play, World Peace appeared to be telling one of the refs that it was an accident and he was completely unaware of Harden’s location at the time. However, if you look at the video above, he clearly bumps into Harden before swinging his elbow. And once, his elbow knocks out Harden, World Peace continues to celebrate while Harden falls to the floor.

In response, World Peace issued a statement via ESPN:

“I got real emotional and excited, and it was unfortunate that James had to get hit with the unintentional elbow. I hope he’s OK. Oklahoma, they’re playing for a championship this year. I apologize to the Thunder and James Harden. It was just unfortunate.”

Later ESPN noted he tweeted:

“I just watched the replay again….. Oooo.. My celebration of the dunk really was too much… Didn’t even see James ….. Omg… Looks bad.”

Metta World Peace could be facing a lengthy suspension; the ball is in NBA Commissioner David Stern’s court. Pun intended.

Suspension or not, World Peace is facing some serious scrutiny. The former notoriously aggressive player attempted to transform his image when he changed his name to Metta World Peace before the current season. This incident has seemed to not only amplify the irony of his actions and his name, but also brand him as a lier and a dirty player. It’s going to take a lot more than a statement or a tweet like those (or a name change) to get World Peace back on track in the public eye.

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Good clean karma? – The Bobby Petrino crash

Last week, the Associated Press reported (via Huffington Post Sports) University of Arkansas head football coach Bobby Petrino, who was recently released from the hospital after a severe motorcycle accident, had been in the company of a 25 year-old women. Oh, did I mention Petrino is 51 and married? After withholding this information from school officials, Petrino is now on paid leave pending a review by Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long.

The actions of a head coach, or any staff member for that matter, reflect on the the university brand. What was once thought to be a tragedy – a near-devastating crash, is now a clear demonstration of karma. But that’s besides the point. The real issue is not only was Petrino engaged in less-than-wholesome activity, he lied to Arkansas about it. The key to branding is never lie – you will always get caught. This isn’t to say a married, 51 year-old football coach with a 25 year-old on the back of his motorcycle would not have been scandalous if Petrino hadn’t kept that secret to himself. But, it wouldn’t have been such a surprise to his bosses. And in crisis communications, surprises are never a good thing. Moral of the story? Never lie, cheat or steal. But if you do, tell the truth about it sooner rather than later.

PS. In this post, withholding information is the same as lying.

UPDATE
Huffington Post Sports reported today that Petrino was fired for ‘misleading’ the University of Arkansas regarding his relationship with his mistress. Great move by Long.

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Pleading Saints

In a press conference Tuesday, March 27, New Orleans Saints (former?) coach Sean Payton went on the record apologizing for the bounty program that had been going on under his supervision. When I saw this last week, I was ready to applaud Payton and the Saints organization for their grace in accepting some of the harshest NFL sanctions in history. Not pushing blame on others can be hard to resist in a time of crisis.

But a three days later, Payton decided to appeal his one-year suspension.

This is just one of the several appeals filed in response to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s laundry list of punishments. General manager Mickey Loomis is appealing his eight-game suspension, the Saints are appealing its $500,000 fine and the loss of its second-round draft picks for 2012 and 2013 and assistant coach Joe Vitt is appealing his sex-game suspension.

A Huffington Post article detailing the scandal and appeals reports,

The commissioner has said since the unprecedented penalties were announced that the Saints’ coach would likely be allowed to continue working as his appeal was resolved. However, he added that the challenge would be expedited, indicating that Payton would not likely be able to add on much work time should his appeal be upheld.

Payton’s decision to appeal has revealed a clear discrepancy between his behavior at the March 27th press conference and his appeal announcement. Dragging all those ‘sincere’ apologies into question. He’s clearly not as sorry as he implied. Although taking responsibility is honorable, Payton should have made sure his actions after the press conference fell in line with his statements. In crisis communications, consistency is key. The only consistency here is the number of appeals and the number of sanctions. Lesson learned? Only say sorry if you mean it.

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Hoodies for justice

Today, Huffington Post Sports reported Dwayne Wade and LeBron James posted pictures to Facebook and/or Twitter showing them with a hooded sweatshirt pulled over their heads. LeBron’s picture showed Miami Heat teammates participating in the act of protest. Both posts were in response to the death of a local teenager shot and killed by a neighborhood crime-watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla. late February. Shooter George Zimmerman said he shot the unarmed  African American, Trayvon Martin, out of self-defense and has not been arrested.

I am not a big Heat fan…AT ALL, but was struck by this team’s efforts to use their respective platforms to bring awareness to the injustice of Martin’s death. In the NBA, players are bought and sold constantly. Players rarely end up in the community they grew up, nor do they stay for long periods of time. Thus, players don’t often have deep connections to the communities they play in. This is natural. I don’t know if this was prompted by the Miami Heat executives, but I like it regardless. Wade, James and their teammates are using their massive social media reach to bring awareness to an injustice in their community, while also showing the Florida community that they care about what’s going on there. This is community relations at its finest. This is just good PR.

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Punishing Saints

Today, ESPN reported NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s series of punishments to affect the New Orleans Saints in regard to recent discoveries of its bounty system in the upcoming months and years. According to the league via ESPN, the Saints adopted a culture that encouraged players to injure competitors for a price ($1,500 for “knockouts” and $1,000 for “cart-offs”). Furthermore, head coach Sean Payton ignored instructions from the NFL and Saints ownership to make sure bounties weren’t being paid. The NFL also attacked Payton for choosing to “falsely deny that the program existed,” and for trying to “encourage the false denials by assistants.”

Below is the laundry list of punishments.

  • Suspension of head coach Sean Payton for one year without pay
  • Indefinite banning of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams
  • Banning of general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular-season games next season
  • Banning of assistant coach Joe Vitt for the first six regular-season games next season
  • $500,000 fine for the franchise
  • Loss of second-round draft pick for 2012 and 2013

The league is still reviewing the case with the NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA); punishments for specific players is yet to be determined.

Payton is the first head coach to ever be suspended and Loomis is believed to be the first general manager to be suspended. This is a long list of punishments. Probably considered the harshest set of punishments for one franchise to face in history. But I don’t think it’s harsh enough. The thing that bothers me most is that Sean Payton, who oversaw this bounty system as head coach, is only suspended for one year without pay. Yes, that’s a big deal – it’s never been done before – but on his current salary, I think he’ll survive. He allegedly oversaw, and perhaps took part in the encouragement of players hurting competing players for rewards, completely disregarding the integrity of football as a sport. These players are being paid to physically hurt competitors, attempting to ruin careers, hindering their livelihood. In my book, Payton and all leadership involved in the encouragement (and cover-up) of the bounty system should be banned from the sport. Period.

This may seem too harsh to some, but in a time when sports are so commonly associated with corruption, it is necessary for the league to take a step toward eliminating those who take part in the vary actions that are tarnishing the name of football.

With that said, I have to admit the franchise’s apologetic statement did make me rethink the magnitude of my aforementioned thoughts on punishment…for a second. In a statement in response to the impending penalties, the Saints said,

“To our fans, the NFL and the rest of our league, we offer our sincere apology and take full responsibility for these serious violations. It has always been the goal of the New Orleans Saints to create a model franchise and to impact our league in a positive manner. There is no place for bounties in our league and we reiterate our pledge that this will never happen again.”

While it is usually crucial to present a united front when it comes to crisis communications (really, all communications), at this point the most the Saints can do is just admit wrongdoing within the organization and gracefully accept the consequences. Now, the Saints just need to stick to its promise.

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The Broncos’ $96M deal: aligning with a legend (to be)

With winter term of my senior year coming to a close, I’ve found my way back to the bloggosphere. Hello, old friend. This past term I took a class entitled, “Olympic Sports Marketing.” Loved it. And a lot of what we discussed in class is relatable to PR. One topic was aligning the brand with the values and goals of the Olympic Games as well as committing to a long-term investment. One thing that surprised me was the cost of becoming an official sponsor of the Games. It costs $80M to be associated with the Olympics – keep in mind, this is just the right to say you’re an official sponsor. On top of that, these select few sponsors spend a minimum of $200M to market themselves as such. This is an incredible amount of money, and although I won’t get into it, this money is spent to do good – but could also be used to resolve the global food crisis; just saying.

But back to branding. These sponsors know that they are committing to a long-term, strategic investment. To maximize their investment, they must be 100% committed to the Olympic brand. They must align themselves with Olympic values, both through their online presences and through traditional media.

With this on my mind, I couldn’t help but think about branding when I saw this morning’s front page of ESPN.com, “The Art Of The Deal – The Broncos got Peyton Manning for five years, $96 million.” At the press conference scheduled for later today, Manning will be announced as the Broncos’ new starting quarterback. The franchise now faces the task of trading its current starting quarterback, Tim Tebow. There is no doubt this is a risky investment. Peyton is 36 years old. He’s missed the 2011 season to undergo several neck surgeries. Tim Tebow is a fresh 24. Yet the Broncos are tossing Tebow aside for Manning, with a pay schedule banking on him playing five more seasons.

But perhaps it’s not about a championship ring. The Brancos are aligning itself with the Peyton Manning brand. There is no doubt that Manning is (or will become) a football legend. In fact, rumors surfaced before the deal was signed stating that Payton was offered a guaranteed position on staff with the courting rival Tennessee Titans should he live out the terms of its contract. This was never about buying a great quarterback. It’s about aligning a franchise with one of football’s greatest stars. And by star, I don’t just mean on the field. I mean, Manning’s squeaky clean, fatherly, honest, all around good image.

I’m not going to say I agree with Manning’s paycheck. My father has ingrained in me for twenty two years that athletes are grossly overpaid. What I am saying is that from a branding standpoint, this is a smart move for Denver. Peyton Manning is (or will be) a legend. Good players want to play with legends. Period.

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PAC-12 media play

Yesterday afternoon marked the first completed PAC-12 media day. Now, more than ever, there is little to differentiate pro and college football. The biggest of controversies discussed was the investigation of University of Oregon’s dealings with a Houston-based recruiting service owner, Willie Lyles.

I read an article this morning in the San Francisco Chronicle (distributed by the Associated Press) about the controversy and Oregon Coach Chip Kelly’s comments, or lack there of, during the PAC-12 media day. To the multitude of questions from the media about the NCAA investigation, Chip Kelly responded, “As head coach of this football program, we’re held accountable for everything we do… I’d love to talk about it. There are a lot of answers I’d love to make sure we can get out there.”

The article also reads that in a statement sent out to program supporters by email last Friday, Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens said the Ducks have retained a law firm to assess the $25,000 payment to Lyles for an apparently outdated scouting report last year.

In an ESPN recap of the media day, Ted Miller interviewed Bruce Feldman about the current happenings of the PAC-12. In the interview, Feldman makes a comment about Oregon delaying their response to the accusations to defuse the situation as much as possible. Is this an effective tactic? Yes. Unlike Tennessee, Oregon is not punishing themselves prematurely, but as far as they know, they’ve done nothing wrong (That’s their story and their sticking to it!). The fact that Oregon has retained a law firm to independently examine their payment to Lyles shows that the program is proactively investigating the situation.

You can’t comment on something if you don’t know happened for sure, and I commend Chip Kelly for not trying to.

PS. Sorry if this post is bias in your eyes…ALL HAIL CHIP!

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Volunteers volunteer probation

Last week, the University of Tennessee announced a two year self-imposed probation for the schools athletic department. This was in response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations on May 20.

“The University has taken what it believes are meaningful and appropriate steps to address the problems identified in this case,” the response reads, “including declaring student-athletes ineligible, implementing enhancements to the compliance program, and self-imposing penalties upon the particular coaching staff members and sports programs that were designed to punish the head coach, deter similar conduct in the future, and offset any advantages that the programs may have gained.”

Yesterday, it was reported that Lane Kiffin, former head coach for the Volunteers and current coach of the USC Trojans, is now facing charges for “failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the program and failing to monitor the activities regarding compliance of several of his assistants.”

Tennessee is still awaiting ruling on the twelve major infractions.

My question is, do self-inflicted punishments work? They can, if executed properly. Here are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to the kind of crisis communications colleges and universities have become so familiar with lately.

  1. Speed of response – Tennessee was quick to take responsibility for violations. That is not always the case. A quick response shows that you are paying attentions and eager to fix problems within your organization.
  2. Admitting guilt –  The university went above and beyond expectations here. They are not only willing to accept charges for violations, but also willing to punish themselves for their own mistakes. In doing this, I would think it is a good possibility that the NCAA may reduce their infractions to applaud UT for their voluntary probation. But even if they don’t, they still look good.
  3. Placing blame – Don’t do it. Tennessee didn’t once complain that violations were committed under the supervision of a now Trojan and by others that have now left the program. This could have been rewarded by the NCAA’s charge of Kiffin individually, separate from the school. Charges against Kiffin are not likely to disappear anytime soon. He is expected to be sidelined for several games at his new USC home (an almost insignificant problem for USC compared to other sanctions they have faced recently).
  4. University culture – This incident shows that there was little control and supervision going on in the athletic programs. Because of Tennessee’s actions regarding my previous three points, it has given the impression that there are great changes going on in this department.

Schools can no longer rely on their coaches to enforce and educate their staff on NCAA rules. Coaches are put under immense pressure to perform and attract the best players in the country. But every school’s athletic department needs to have a crisis plan. And whether Tennessee had one prepped or not, it performed beautifully.

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