Friday, August 14, 2009

Crisis Communications, Big Papi Style

Come clean. Do it quickly. Don’t fuel the fire.

The Red Sox’ David Ortiz used all those crisis communications techniques recently in a mostly successful effort to address his alleged failure to pass a 2003 doping test administered by Major League Baseball.

Big Papi’s PR at bat was made even more difficult by this curve ball: He hasn’t been able to see the actual test results, which are under a court seal. This made the “come clean” part of the equation very difficult, since Papi wasn’t completely certain what may have triggered the positive test result. Further, taking the time to find out would have violated Rule #2: Do it quickly. So he balanced the two by finding out what he could in a reasonable amount of time (meaning quickly enough so that it didn’t look like he was ducking allegations and not giving harmful speculation time to gain credence), then offering up the best possible response given the lack of information available to him. He believes he was “careless” with over-the-counter supplements.

There are a number of useful PR lessons that can be gleaned from Papi’s performance:
  • Stay in control. Always maintain your composure. Even though the release of information that was supposed to be confidential made the “victim card” available, Papi – to his credit -- didn’t play it.
  • Be candid and accurate. Get as much information as you can about what you’re up against, and make your points with as much candor and clarity as you can. Then, don’t push your luck. Don’t speculate, don’t protest (see: “victim card,” above) and of course, never lie. Just stay focused and say what you know to be true.
  • When it’s over, stop talking. After you’ve presented your side of things clearly and succinctly, there is no reason to keep fueling the conversation. Leave the spotlight as soon as you can. Too often, those accused of scandals or corruption get carried away defending themselves (we’re talking about you, Roger Clemens), and it often only serves to raise suspicion or create vulnerabilities that didn’t exist. Once you’ve said your piece, fade from public view with as much dignity and grace as you can muster.
Bottom Line: Big Papi’s reputation for candor and being one of the Good Guys sustained little damage, and the matter has faded from the public consciousness – for now.

Posted by David Preston

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