It’s time to expose the myth that public relations is only to draw attention away from a crisis.
I’ve talked a lot about the different social media tools and strategies to create a personal brand the past weeks, but today I want to discuss the importance of public relations to an athletic career.
Sports public relations does this by distributing information to the public they otherwise wouldn’t know, and communicating messages that craft an organization or individual’s public image. Essentially, sports public relations depends on the personal and professional relationships developed between athletes and their peers. Without the proper guidance, athletes risk losing their audience and thousands of sponsorship dollars, especially during a crisis.
In sports public relations a crisis can range from any news of a coach being fired or an athlete being traded. Some are much worse like the nightmare seen during the Penn State and Jerry Sandusky case. During a crisis there is no time to think, one must only react and release the information that needs to be published to the public as quickly and accurately as possible. Therefore, it’s critical an athlete and the manager or team prepare diligently before a crisis strikes.
Let’s play a game. I’ll pick three names, and you hold on to the first word that comes to mind.
To avoid cases like those above athletes, teams and managers must remain organized keeping all athlete information updated and ready when media outlets come calling. They must include numbers and statements media professionals will want when reporting the story. Any time wasted makes getting in front a crisis incredibly difficult. Thus, creating media lists help present the story the way a team or athlete wishes to present it before the media crafts assumptions into a bigger mess.
Professional athletes and the teams must also remember the importance of being honest. Almost every lie is solved with the power of the internet, and there’s a common misunderstanding that public relations is about spinning the truth. However, that couldn’t be more incorrect. Not only will lying get an athlete nowhere it can overshadow a lifetime of hard work. Take Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte for example.
Lochte and a few other team USA swimmers reported a robbery by armed men on their way back to athletes’ village after a night of partying. Lochte’s story ended up a lie and took away attention from team USA’s historic achievements. Everyone involved in the hoax received a ban from competitive swimming, along with some embarrassment and a damaged public image. Lochte did earn some respect back after publicly apologizing, but would avoid the entire situation by telling the truth.
Compare this to a PR crisis faced by a public company since both are seen similarly in the eyes of the consumer. In 2010, Toyota recalled approximately 8.8 million cars due to problems with the accelerator, which resulted in multiple deaths. Initially, Toyota was slow to respond only increasing the media backlash and further damaging the brand’s image. However, the brand bounced back despite poor crisis management in the beginning by offering extended warranties and increasing its marketing efforts reassuring safety. Every ad after the debacle was well thought out and showed Toyota’s dedication to fixing the problem. Furthermore, Toyota executives became more visible, speaking to the media and remaining active during the investigations. Through strategic marketing tactics leveraging the brand’s proven track record and a real focus on safety, Toyota was able to prove the situation and the terrible mishandling as a freak accident. The following year, Toyota’s brand equity jumped 11 points, according to Forbes.
Professional teams and athletes can learn a valuable lesson from Toyota here. Toyota’ slow response severely damaged the brand, and although the company did bounce back the following year, the percentage of consumer’s who thought positively of the brand was still lower than the pre-recall years. Athlete’s without an established reputation will find it harder to bounce back if not properly for a crisis.
Being an athlete isn’t for everyone. The drive to compete every day takes a toll on a person both physically and emotionally, and even when things don’t go the athlete’s way, it’s important they handle adversity correctly. Losing a big match or important game is the quickest way to expose someone’s real character. Look at Dominick Cruz’s title fight loss to Cody Gardrandt at UFC 207.
Cruz was the UFC bantamweight champion and undefeated for nearly 10 years heading into the match. After his defeat, many critics, including myself, wondered how he would handle losing for the first time in almost a decade. Cruz immediately showed his maturity and class in the post-fight Q&A congratulating the new champion’s heart and fight awareness. Cruz’s composure after the terrible loss earned him respect from media and fans around the world and impressed Garbrandt enough to offer him a rematch.
That same year Ronda Rousey headlined UFC 207 and suffered a devastating one-sided loss to the UFC women’s featherweight champion, Amanda Nunes. After the fight, Rousey skipped the post-fight Q&A and stayed quiet for days. No one knew how she was handling the biggest loss of her career after taking a year off. Fans and critics were quick to insist she retired after storming off, delivering a huge blow to Rousey’s image.
I’ve stressed the importance for athletes to prepare for a crisis ahead of time, the necessity to remain honest and handle adversity with composure to advance athletic careers. Now, it’s time to talk a little about how athletes can communicate their stories with fans around the world.
Social media is the go-to method of direct communication with fans, but athletes like Michael Bisping are now starting to host their own podcasts. Bisping, being the wisecracking Englishman that he is, uses his podcast as a platform to deliver insight information to MMA fans while also generating excitement for his upcoming fights. Podcasts are a perfect way for athletes to build personal relationships with fans while creating credibility and simultaneously becoming more marketable.
So, to the athletes and teams reading this, remember that public relations is not about spinning the truth. PR depends on preparation, how athlete’s carry themselves and the stories they choose to communicate with the world. And above all, athletes must be genuine. Those who chose to follow these rules of public relations will undoubtedly experience more rewarding and fruitful careers than their counterparts.