NFL wakes up, admits it’s wrong and acts appropriately — in the end

ISIS is the true crISIS.

The Washington pro football team’s name is still racist.

But a remarkable event took place yesterday in another crisis that’s very much worth noting.

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he and the league made a mistake on its domestic violence stance. As William C. Rhoden wrote in The New York Times, just that fact is almost more stunning and newsworthy than the substance of the change.

Goodell kind of apologized, even. It’s almost like Buffalo’s “Wide Right” never happened. OK, maybe it’s not that miraculous.

Key elements to stemming a crisis is to take responsibility for the poor behavior and apologize, while promising to do better.

Goodell said:

“My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”

Goodell surely heard from his marketing people, who reminded him that half the NFL’s fans are women. And from his PR people, who told him regular season games might include pickets against the league’s lax reaction to domestic violence.

But he did the right thing — despite stubbornly defending his decision for six weeks. It’s not easy for anyone, especially a czar, to admit a mistake. [OK, he did it in a letter to owners, not in a true stand-up and take the heat news conference. But let's not see if the gift box is ticking.] The new deal is a six-game suspension for the first offense and a season on the street for a second.

Surely you know that his initial response to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s video-recorded assault of his then girlfriend, now wife, Janay Palmer, was a two-game suspension. You may even know that the NFL boss docked a Cleveland Browns receiver an entire season — for marijuana use. That’s legal in Denver Broncos land.

Goodell sounded sincere. It would have been ideal if he’d added four more games or 14 more games to Rice’s jail time, but let’s not get giddy. Goodell quelled the crisis. This one anyway.

Now let’s hope he feels so good about this one, that the over-used state of momentum is cascading through him so fully that he realizes the Washington team name is racist and makes the team change it.

That would be news.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

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Lessons not to be ignored emerge from shooting death of Michael Brown

The heart-rending pictures of Michael Brown’s family mourning at his funeral yesterday say much more about life and death than anything worth recording here.

But after three weeks that shook America, made its moral superiority suspect to much of the world and started a debate over police militarization that reached the White House, what have we learned? Many, many things that sociologists, politicians and historians will parse for years.

But what have we learned, from the point of view of this niche, about crisis management?

Here’s an incomplete list:

1. Defiance and defensiveness should be the last reaction, not the first. Police commanders in Ferguson, MO vastly overreacted. Their show of military force was an affront to the citizens they’re sworn to protect and the nation’s freedoms. Instead of transparency, communications and understanding, they used force to mask their potential complicity and guilt.

2. Facts are crucial. When emotions run high on both sides in a crisis, facts are always in dispute. Nailing down the simplest facts as quickly as possible must occur or the consequences can be hugely negative. When police act defensively, their facts won’t be trusted, even if they are accurate. When a community feels victimized, members tend to minimize criticism as irrelevant in the face of the ultimate wrong.

3. Every crisis must have an effective, authoritative leader. Communication is a basic tool in any crisis and the smart organization will plan and practice before a crisis hits. Multiple police agencies floundered around in the first days after Brown’s killing. The Ferguson police chief only made the situation worse. It wasn’t until State Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson came on scene a few days into the crisis that the authorities’ credibility got back to zero. He the raised credibility. As a black police officer, he came with the benefit of the doubt from both sides. But he earned it in the days that followed, with frank, honest, transparent comments and directions. If any one individual turned around this mess, he did.

As The New York Times wrote Monday — in the lesser, but best, of three profiles on the case it published that day — “He is Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who, in many days of working to restore calm here in Ferguson, has redefined leadership in crisis: equal parts police official, preacher, mediator and neighbor, unafraid to convey his inner conflict, unafraid to cry.”

4. It’s never too early to plan for a crisis. Ferguson, like thousands of other towns across this nation, was a fault line grinding toward an earthquake. A suburb that is 67 percent black with a police force that is 6 percent black is dry forest waiting for a spark. To compound matters, this was an aggressive police force.

“Data from municipal courts across Missouri show that in 2013, the city of Ferguson had the highest number of warrants issued in the state relative to its size. Arrest warrants are often served by municipal courts when someone fails to appear in court to pay fines for a traffic or other violation, like shoplifting, assault or disturbance of peace. The high rate could reflect more crime as well as heavier prosecution, and it could be indicative of a fraught relationship between law enforcement and citizens,” the Times reported yesterday.

Lack of effective community outreach, affirmative and diverse hiring and community policing were surely contributing factors in why this crisis went red hot in minutes.

5. Companies, organizations, municipalities must learn how to deal with media. Sitting down with a reporter planning to write or broadcast a positive report about you or your organization can induce sweaty palms. Facing a media horde of microphones and cameras, shouted questions and angry retorts can be downright scary. People need to train for this. Handling routine crime stories with the hometown media is a lot different than network and top cable reporters. Get media trained.

There are undoubtedly more takeaways. And none of these approach the level of what the nation still has to learn about race relations and criminal justice. But they are lessons w

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

orth noting, nonetheless.

 

 

 

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Ferguson shows how poor crisis management worsens the damage

The shooting of an un-armed black man by a white Ferguson, MO police officer stayed a local crisis for about 10 seconds.

The incompetent crisis management by the town police chief made it a regional and then a statewide crisis in minutes. Hours after that, it became a national crisis. Today, news came that Michael Brown, 18, was shot six times. President Obama will be briefed at the White House and a federal autopsy was ordered.

Police Chief Thomas Jackson’s efforts in the wake of Brown’s killing Aug. 9 only worsened matters. These included failure to publicly identify the officer involved [giving way to charges of unequal treatment, favoritism and cover up]; the release of an edited video snippet of Brown in a store prior to the tragic incident [made worse when it was revealed that the officer who shot Brown was unaware of the prior incident, making the video irrelevant]; and the military-level response to initial peaceful demonstrations.

Gov. Jay Nixon [for an older generation a name rich in irony, given the context] tried to make things better. He inserted state and county police ahead of the locals — where only three of 53 sworn personnel are black, in a city that is 60 percent African-American.

Now he’s resorted — as failure after failure and one incompetent decision after another followed — to calling out the National Guard.

The legality, criminality and right and wrong of this tragic situation is for others to decide. Surely poor race relations over decades is part of the context. That this crisis needed far, far better decision-making and actions is clear. It got so bad that The New York Times did a side-by-side comparison story about the images from 2014 Ferguson and 1964 Birmingham and Selma.

What would better crisis management look like?

One person needed to be in charge — governor, chief or mayor. That person needed to apologize for the shooting, take responsibility on behalf of the town and release all the facts as soon as possible and promise to get out those he or she did not yet have. This authority needed to immediately communicate internally — in this case to town leaders, pastors, council members and the general public. He or she needed to initiate and implement a complete investigation as soon as possible, suspend the officer and recover his weapon, pending that investigation.

A community meeting should have been held immediately, so people in the community could not only vent their anger and criticism, but push the authorities for change and progress.

And that’s just the beginning. There are no guarantees that these strategies and tactics would have diffused decades of distrust or the ensuing violent demonstrations. But American citizens peacefully assembling should not immediately face riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets backed by snipers. These are provocations, not crisis management.

Jackson reacted defensively and over-reacted tactically, making the crisis worse.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

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Kansas City NFL franchise seems to understand getting ahead of a crisis

In the crisis business, 90 percent of the calls you get come from those already knee-deep in alligators.

It’s therefore so noteworthy and empowering when an organization sees a crisis around the corner, or just works under the assumption and some day something will go wrong, and acts before a crisis hits.

The Kansas City NFL franchise is showing the Washington NFL franchise how to do it better. A crisis averted is less costly to reputation and the bottom line than one that rages for weeks and months.

The D.C. team is in a mess about its nickname. The federal government is pressuring, members of Congress called for a change, and fans everywhere are agreeing that the nickname is racist and has no place in American society. But, and most relevant for this post, the team’s owner and leadership are stonewalling, insisting the name will never change.

The K.C. team looked honestly in the mirror — are you listening Cleveland baseball, Chicago hockey, Atlanta baseball, Florida State football? — and said, ‘we’re next.’

As Adam Teicher wrote in his ESPN blog:

Credit to the Kansas City Chiefs for recognizing that some of the franchise’s traditions are offensive to Native Americans. Rather than bury their heads in the sand and pretend the issue doesn’t exist, as the [D.C. team has] done in Washington, the Chiefs have been proactive in addressing some of the concerns, as the Kansas City Star reports. The newspaper said the Chiefs have recently met with Native American groups in the hope of easing their concerns.

If the nickname and/or game-day traditions offend people, even if that amounts to a small group, an NFL team is obligated to listen and respond. That’s the least any franchise can do for its community and the Chiefs, a powerful force in Kansas City since arriving in 1963, are meeting that obligation.

Beyond that, the issue is a little bit sticky for the Chiefs. No one is claiming the team’s nickname is offensive as [the D.C. team's], a racial slur. Kansas City’s NFL team was actually nicknamed in honor of Roe Bartle, the Kansas City mayor who worked to bring the team from Dallas more than 50 years ago. Bartle’s nickname was Chief.

But the Chiefs, and their fans, adopted many traditions that could be deemed offensive to Native Americans. Fans at Arrowhead Stadium do the tomahawk chop when the Chiefs score a touchdown. Some wear headdresses to games. A horse named Warpaint rides the field before kickoff. The Chiefs beat a war drum before games.

These rituals are part of the game-day experience now for Chiefs fans. Efforts to ban them from Arrowhead Stadium would undoubtedly be met with great resistance and, probably, eventual failure. So the Chiefs also need to tread lightly or risk stirring some serious anger among their paying customers.

There are multiple nuances herein, but the lesson is clear. If you see a crisis looming, don’t wait. Do the right thing. Be proactive. Make changes. Take responsibility and reach out to ease the crisis.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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Bon Jovi has credibility problem discussing Bills purchase and move

Jon Bon Jovi has a PR problem — beyond his ’80s ‘do.

The New Jersey-based rocker is the front man for a Toronto-based group that wants to buy the Buffalo Bills and, if he is to be believed, let them prosper in Western New York.

Bills fans, thousands of whom travelled to Canton, OH over the weekend to see former Bills wide receiver Andre Reed inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, aren’t buying it.

Bon Jovi tried to ease their worries with a letter to The Buffalo News that the paper published Sunday. It promised to maintain the legacy of late Bills’ owner Ralph Wilson and said a lot of nice things about the region.

In an unscientific poll, WBEN radio today reports that fans are running 91 percent skeptical.

Also skeptical is the Buffalo Fan Alliance, a client of mine at Eric Mower + Associates, and a group that has a plan to raise money so an owner that will keep the team in Buffalo can save on debt service on the expected $1 billion-plus deal. This would all be just a lot of fun if it weren’t so deadly serious. There are bars, fans and radio stations in Western New York boycotting Bon Jovi’s music.

Bills fans see Bon Jovi as a carpetbagger, someone who soothes and smooths his way into the fans’ comfort zone and then sneaks out the back door with the goods — in this case their team.

As the Fan Alliance directors’ statement says:

In the interest of all Bills fans, we appreciate Bon Jovi’s recent public statement and would like to believe that his group is committed to seeing the team remain in Buffalo for generations to come.

Given the makeup of his group and some of the recent information that has come to light regarding their site selection process for a new stadium, however, we remain highly skeptical of the Bon Jovi group’s intentions. While we appreciate his sentiment, it’s worth noting that nowhere in his letter does he write or directly state or legally commit his group to ‘not moving the Bills from Buffalo.’

Given the Bon Jovi group’s roots and business commitments in Toronto, the Buffalo Fan Alliance believes that this group will have to tangibly and unequivocally demonstrate to Bills fans everywhere the group’s commitment to Western New York before this community and this fan base will believe their intentions. Anything short of formal action taken on their part will be viewed as nothing more than rhetoric.

If they are sincere in their commitment to Buffalo, we would ask them to enter into a binding pre-purchase agreement with the state and county whereby they would agree to proactively waive the one-year buyout clause in the seventh year of the current lease if they were to successfully purchase the team. If they are truly committed to Buffalo, such an escape clause would not be necessary for them anyway and this would be a simple and demonstrable first step of their sincerity for keeping the team in Western New York. As such, the Buffalo Fan Alliance would call for them to now publicly make such a commitment as a show of good faith on their part.

We also believe that they would need to announce formalized plans for a long term-stadium solution in New York either in advance of, or contemporaneously with, any successful ownership declaration. Whether this be a more comprehensive retrofit of Ralph Wilson Stadium or a new stadium altogether, a stated time-frame and binding commitment to one of the two options needs to be taken by this group so that the team will remain viable in this region for a period well beyond the current lease term.

The Sporting News wrote that the Fan Alliance called Bon Jovi’s bluff.

Clearly, this is not a crisis. But one aspect of solving a crisis is credibility. Do you, or your company, have enough credibility so you can stem the crisis with facts that persuade the public, your employees or constituents, and anyone else out there in social media land with an opinion, that you are truthful and earnest.

Bills fans made it clear to Bon Jovi they see his letter as a ploy.

Half the battle in any crisis or PR campaign is perception. If Bon Jovi thought he’d shift the perception that he’s trying to “steal” Buffalo’s team, he was mistaken.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

 

 

 

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Olbermann, Stephen A., add to Goodell’s NFL crisis over Ray Rice

A crisis persists if the factors that caused it are not dealt with effectively and quickly.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is finding that out — again.

ESPN commentator Keith Olbermann, in a barbed attack, called on Goodell to lengthen Baltimore Ravens All-Pro running back Ray Rice’s two-game suspension for knocking out his wife in a New Jersey casino elevator.

Meanwhile, ESPN got pulled into the consternation over Goodell’s wrist slap of Rice when it’s staccato host Stephen A. Smith argued Friday that domestic abuse victims bear some responsibility for bringing attacks on themselves. Look for him to go silent for a month or so.

But back to Olbermann, never one to mince words or douse outrage. Parsing an NFL spokesman’s attempt to explain away the crisis, he showed how it was only getting worse. And in an original bit of reporting, he noted that in a June meeting Janay Palmer Rice met with Goodell — and her husband and Ravens’ officials — to discuss the attack. Olbermann made it clear that asking a domestic abuse victim to talk about her level of security in front of her attacker is a violation of every investigatory and ethical standard on the books.

Five days after the news of Rice’s meager suspension broke, there have been daily stories, commentary and pointed questions about the decision. That Goodell sent another league official to answer questions about it Monday only points to the depth of the crisis. When in crisis, you usually want the highest-ranking person — assuming he or she is capable in front of the media, and Goodell certainly is — out front. They need to take public responsibility for the crisis and deliver facts about the decision.

And until all the questions are answered, the crisis will persist.

New York Times media critic Richard Sandomir  had some choice words for Goodell, Rice, ESPN and Smith, right.

Staking out a position for a longer punishment for Rice is not brave. Anyone could see that N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell had been too lenient. But then Smith went verbally reckless.

“In Ray Rice’s case, he probably deserves more than a two-game suspension, which we both acknowledged,” he said, as [co-host Skip] Bayless nodded. “But at the same time, we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation. Not that there’s real provocation, but the elements of provocation” — at this point, without letting him finish his sentence and as he delved into amateur forensics, you had to wonder which “elements” he was talking about, when women should accept responsibility for being victimized and why those elements do not add up to “real provocation.”

Ironic that a crisis in the NFL, ESPN’s year-round bread and butter, should be ratcheted up by the all-sports, all-promo, all-the-time network.

At least Smith’s ESPN colleague, Michelle Beadle took him to task on Twitter, endangering her own career by pushing up ESPN’s social media policy.

All of this adds up to a black eye not only for Mrs. Rice, but for the league. This weekend is the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony and exhibition game in Canton. Goodell will surely be there. And he’d surely better answer some questions and increase Rice’s suspension or this crisis will haunt him through the season.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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When an individual issue bursts into public crisis, show me the integrity

U.S. Sen. John Walsh, a Montana Democrat, was a political consultant’s dream.

He is an Iraq war veteran and a high-profile leader in his state, which is big on space [Sky?] but rather minimal on people. Nonetheless, they can’t be pleased with what The New York Times reported last week:

A decorated veteran of the Iraq war and former adjutant-general of his state’s National Guard, Mr. Walsh offered the Democratic Party something it frequently lacks: a seasoned military man.

On the campaign trail this year, Mr. Walsh, 53, has made his military service a main selling point. Still wearing his hair close-cropped, he notes he was targeted for killing by Iraqi militants and says his time in uniform informs his views on a range of issues.

But one of the highest-profile credentials of Mr. Walsh’s 33-year military career appears to have been improperly attained. An examination of the final paper required for Mr. Walsh’s master’s degree from the United States Army War College indicates the senator appropriated at least a quarter of his thesis on American Middle East policy from other authors’ works, with no attribution.

What was Walsh’s response? He blamed his mistake on post traumatic stress disorder. This is not to say that’s anything but a real malady for thousands of war veterans through the decades. And that’s not to say his explanation isn’t plausible.

But when a personal crisis goes public, don’t we want to see our leaders, people we elect to the Senate certainly, stand up and take responsibility? Don’t we want to see a humble John Walsh apologize to the voters and the U.S. Senate for gaining their respect and votes under apparently false pretenses? Don’t we want to see someone who wore our country’s uniform to face the cameras and say “I screwed up and I’m resigning?”

Of course we do. And that’s what he should do. End the crisis, take responsibility for bad behavior, pledge to go back and rewrite the final paper and take your punishment.

It’s even survivable, as The Washington Post noted:

What you might have expected Walsh to do was simply apologize. After all, plagiarism typically amounts these days to a venial sin in politics; Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) survived plagiarism accusations recently, while Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) weathered them in 2011.

That’s because apologizing is the right thing to do. Not because an investigation by the War College will likely conclude he did, indeed, plagiarize the paper. Not because his political opponents will beat him up. Not because his loss could tip the Senate majority to the Republicans. But because it’s the right thing to do.

On a smaller but similar scale, the superintendent of the Hamburg, NY school district admitted himself to a rehab hospital. This came after The Buffalo News challenged him and he was forced to admit to local police that he damaged his own car in a minor accident and falsely attributed the damage to critics of the school board and the district.

The school board suspended Dr. Richard Jetter — with pay — before he could resign. The crime, if proven, is a misdemeanor. But the duplicity of trying to blame the district’s critics — the superintendent also said he found a threatening note under his car’s wiper along with the supposed vandalism — is simply lying.

In effect, that’s what Walsh did.

You end a private-personal-public crisis by doing what you know is right.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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