Crisis PR expert Jonathan Bernstein
The following PR tutorial is a based on a real life PR disaster thatâ€™s currently consuming Melbourne media; Imagine youâ€™re the PR adviser to one of the countryâ€™s biggest sporting clubs. One of your top stars is linked to an alleged murderer and career criminal. How would you manage this issue?
Iâ€™ve invited international PR crisis management expert Jonathan Bernstein (USA) to answer a few questions surrounding the PR handling of the issue (see end of case). After reading the evolution of the following case material, see if your answers match Jonathanâ€™s expert responseâ€¦which Iâ€™ll tantalisingly publish early next week. Check out who’s the best between you and your communications colleagues.<
OUR CASE BEGINS: An alleged criminal is awaiting trial for the murder of a lawyer and shooting of two civilians in an early morning incident in the strip-joint side of the city.
Media rumours have placed a sports star in the criminalâ€™s company one week earlier, where the miscreant allegedly fired gunshots at a police vehicle.
The sports player tells several team mates about the incident, but not the police.
Responding to police interviewing of the star, the playerâ€™s football club stages a tense media conference; the player is briefed not to answer questions, but reads a stiff, pre-prepared statement and exits quickly.
The clubâ€™s recently installed CEO implies the star was comatosely inebriated and coerced into the criminalâ€™s company.
Controversially, and against popular consensus, the club decides to play the player in their next league game (he is an A-grade star).
The criminalâ€™s father publicly contests the claim of coercion, as do the police who say the player was most likely a witness to a crime.
Rumours emerge that CCTV security footage shows that the player was awake and alert while in the criminalâ€™s car.
The club reacts: At club media conference 2 (with the sponsorsâ€™ backdrop removed), the player under the cloud is still muzzled, with the CEO answering media questions for the player and stonewalling others. The only thing the player says is that he needs to behave better.
The club changes position; now chastising the player, they ban him from drinking alcohol and impose a 1am curfew on him, rather than seek to excuse his actions as per their first media conference.
The football codeâ€™s governing body is very unhappy about damage to its brand image. Latest media speculation says the player may face police charges and even jail for giving a false statement, perjury or attempting to pervert the course of justice. Here are the questions I posed to the PR expert:
1 Has this been an effective issues management exercise?
2 If any, what are the principal flaws in the clubâ€™s PR management strategy?
3 Can you speculate on the motives for the clubâ€™s course of action (legal advice, police intervention, sponsor sensitivities etc)?
4 Could the club have closed the book of this issue any earlier?
5 Is there any credence for the clubâ€™s attempt to minimise the playerâ€™s role in the sequence of events?
6 What do you make of the decision to allow the player to be present at the media conference, thoâ€™ not being allowed to respond except via the briefest of statements?
7 What might the club have been expecting to gain by letting the story drip-feed out to the media?
8 Do you think the club has been fully cognizant of the public/media interest in this situation?
9 Whose reputation is being best preserved/most damaged by this scenario; the playerâ€™s, the clubâ€™s, its sponsors, the codeâ€™s or any others?
10 What would you advise the club to do to repair the reputational damage caused by this incident?