Crisis Management, public relations

When “Rallying Your Support” Goes So, So Wrong

“I love it when a plan comes together.” – John “Hannibal” Smith (George Peppard), The A-Team

“I love it more when it falls apart.” – Yours Truly.

The poor Washington NFL Team. Yesterday, someone at the Washington NFL team’s public relations office apparently decided that rallying the team’s fans against Senator Harry Reid and the U.S. Senate was a good idea. For those of you who aren’t aware, many people consider the Washington NFL team’s nickname to be a tad… racially insensitive.

They decided to send out this little gem.

This was destined to go wrong as soon as they hit “Tweet.”

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The NFL Combine – Why Athletes Need Media Training

This weekend the city of Indianapolis once again found itself host to the annual extravaganza of athletic prowess and skill, a chance for some to move one step closer to their dreams, and others to move two steps away from it. That’s right; it was time for the 2012 NFL Combine.

I had followed some of the Combine news on my favorite sports site, Bleacher Report. Something that stood out to me, that I had never noticed before, were reports on how the top two NFL prospects (Andrew Luck and Robert Griffith III) reacted to questions from the media and that got me thinking.

One of the things that potential NFL players rarely seem to understand is the importance of interview preparation, before they ever sit down with their potential coaches, or they go in front of the podium to address the press. The hoped-for end result of each interview is the same – the desire to leave a positive impression in the minds of those they are talking with. With stories of NFL players causing problems repeatedly popping up in the headlines, teams (and let’s face it, the league) are craving those “high character” players – the ones who go out and play, maintain their composure in stressful times, and who are relaxed when they are dealing with reporters.

Successful athletes tend to be hounded by the media, after games and especially when there are changes of some kind on the team (new coach, star player is traded away, new ownership group, etc). Reporters look for people they have relatively easy access to, and those who they know will be willing to talk with them. In this 24-7 digital media age reporters don’t have time to wait around for athletes who might be interested in talking to them to make up their mind. They need someone “RIGHT NOW!”

That’s where pre-interview preparation comes into play.

When you decide you want more time in front of the camera, you need to contact your agent (or your community’s local Public Relations Society of America chapter) to start investigating who would be a good fit to prepare you, or your clients, for time in front of the blaring media lens. There are a lot of great media experts out there, but you need to find a professional who won’t put up with being “one of the boys,” and who will be willing to be firm with the athletes they work with. As a professional athlete, and a professional “brand” (for lack of a better word) which many athletes are in this day and age of free agency, it is important to not feel too comfortable with your PR professional. It’s their job to focus on the long-term success of your reputation, how you are seen by the majority of fans and front office leaders.

An Aside: Recently GQ featured a story with Terrell Owens, talking about the trials and tribulations he has recently had to deal with – from his “friends” taking his money like he was an ATM, to the children he has fathered with multiple women, to his rebuilt knee, and finally to the lack of interest he received by NFL teams across the country. Coaches and GMs discussed his “bad attitude” or some kind of “character problems” and dismissed his attempt to return to the NFL outright.

There is no way that Owens couldn’t play an important role on the majority of NFL teams in 2011 and 2012, as a secondary receiver, and a mentor to younger wide receivers. But because he, or more importantly, his agent and publicists, didn’t address the concerns his actions were raising towards his long-term reputation when they happened, he is in the situation he is now, playing minor league football in Texas to make enough money to pay his bills.

Spending some time with a media trainer can help players maintain their composure under a different kind of stressful situation. It may be easy for a star NFL quarterback to avoid a blitzing linebacker, but 60 seconds into an interview with a reporter is a type of stress they may not be ready for. It’s the job of a good public relations professional to have their client ready for these interviews. Plus being a ready interview subject, especially a professional and composed interviewee when your team loses, is a good way to get the one thing that most athletes want – extra TV time on ESPN or Fox Sports.

A quick note: Speaking of those locker room interviews…

One thing that people notice immediately is when an athlete is on “cruise control” in their interviews.  You’ve all seen it, the overly used cliches (“We gave it our all”, “They really brought their ‘A-game’ today”, “I want to thank God for this win”, etc.), the thousand-yard stare that tells us they would rather be showering than talking to a reporter. Reporters don’t look for these interviews, they plead with the gods of journalism to not have these kinds of interviews, but all too often they end up quoting someone saying “we gave it our all.”

Do you or your client want additional TV time? Do you want to start attracting the media attention that might lead to endorsements, or after-career gigs? Then start putting some time in with your PR professional, or ask your agent to hire a PR pro (we’re called “pros” for a reason) to work with you on how to answer the media’s questions. PR professionals are used to putting executives, athletes, government officials and others through what’s called “media training,” which helps you get more comfortable in front of reporters.

Take some time every few days and try to think of quick, non-cliche answers to potential game winning and game losing questions. Sit down with a PR pro and ask how they can be used to help you work with the media to cultivate your image. After a game, take a few minutes to compose yourself, keep them on note cards or someplace in your locker, look at them before you try talking to the media, then remember what you’ve been taught by your PR professional and go out there and have a kick ass interview!

Is it hard? Yes it will be at first. But if you can memorize a three-inch thick playbook, pick up a late blitzing weakside linebacker, read the quarterback’s eyes and still get into coverage for the interception, cross the middle for a first-down pass before getting knocked on your ass, or beat a triple-team block to sack the QB in the end zone then by God you can master talking with the media.

After all, this isn’t the impression any athlete wants to leave with coaches or the media: