Monday, May 28, 2012

What Could Schilling Have Done?

Below is an e-mail interview I recently did regarding the travails of Curt Schilling and his company, 38 Studios.  I’d be interested in your comments on my responses.
-  DP

From: Jeff Derderian []
Sent: Friday, May 25, 2012 11:43 AM
Subject: Schilling Piece-GoLocalProv.Com

Hey David--

I hope this note finds you well.

I write a weekly media piece for GoLocalProv these days and I am doing a piece on Schilling and his lack of media response.  We'll look at from PR perspective---what Schilling could have done differently to handle this better. 

I'm wondering if you might be able to answer a few questions for my piece---which will run Tuesday.  I'll put it together over the weekend if you have time to get back to me on it.

Thanks, David.


Jeff Derderian
Media Writer

From: David Preston []
Sent: Sunday, May 27, 2012 12:16 PM
To: 'Jeff Derderian'
Subject: RE: Schilling Piece-GoLocalProv.Com

Hi Jeff – Good to hear from you. 

These are hard questions to answer since I’m missing some key information: 
  • What is this the financial condition of 38 Studios? (Other than “bad”).  
  • What were/are Schilling’s business goals for 38? 
  • Does he know of, or suspect, that there has been any malfeasance involved?  (I am an attorney, but before answering this last question, he would probably want to hire our firm as a sub-contractor to his law firm in order to preserve attorney-client privilege.  This is something we do quite often in a crisis communications situation.)
I should also note that I’m approaching your inquiry as if Schilling, personally, were the client.  If my client was an agency of Rhode Island state government, an individual in government, or the theoretical “Citizens of Rhode Island”, my answers to these questions would be very different.

Communications is not an end in itself -  all communication, crisis or not, should support the goals of an organization, and be designed to create a climate where those goals can be achieved.  38 Studios disintegrated so rapidly that there may not have been anything Schilling could have done business-wise.  If so, all that is left is to try and protect his reputation.

If, as it appears, this is a case of protecting his reputation, I’d advise him to be candid and forthright about how things happened, thank and praise his employees, express regret and accept responsibility for his role.  Above all, he should avoid bitterness or finger-pointing at all costs.

The only possible business scenario that works here would have been that some type of private investment was imminent, and 38 Studios just needed a bridge – money, time or both – to realize the new capital.  In that scenario, I would advise him to make the case that 38 was on the verge of new capital, and that the state would be positioned to preserve and reap the benefit of their entire investment with just a little more time and/or money.

The bridge scenario is unlikely, so it’s probably now strictly about his reputation.  The bottom line with Schilling’s silence so far is that what Rhode Islanders think about Curt Schilling may not be a priority for him.  He also knows that outside of Rhode Island very few people that matter to him will be concerned about this.  If this happened in Massachusetts, New York or California he would have to respond much differently.

Here's a list of questions--and feel free to add any perspective I may be leaving out. 

Q:  What should have Schilling done immediately---press release?  Sit down with all three TV’s? One on one interviews?  If so, why?  What would that have done? 
A:  In the scenario where funding was imminent, I would recommend that he define his position very quickly with a clear, direct written statement.  I would let that stand for about a day, and see what kind of reaction it gets, particularly from decision-makers in government, and in the private capital markets.  From there, I would follow up with a day or two of one-on-one interviews - Rhode Island, Boston and nationally - to further press the case for a bridge.  Stringing these out over a couple of days would allow him to calibrate his message in response to developments, and allow him to define the conversation by constantly creating “news.”  One-on-ones are more conducive to the appearance of a conversation.  They also convey a sense that regardless of what is going on around him, Curt Schilling is calm, rational, thoughtful and accessible, i.e., direct and has nothing to hide.

Q:  Allow workers to talk (about) how they tried to make it work, etc.?
A:  It’s very rare to see the kind of media discipline among employees that seemed to be almost unanimous at Studio 38.  (I would caution him, however, against overtly trying to manufacture expressions of support.)  At this point, with it likely that only Schilling’s reputation is at stake, the employees could be helpful in defining Schilling as someone who had built a strong, team-oriented culture.  Last Friday’s “We Love Curt” sign in the window, regardless of who posted it, reinforces the impression that Schilling is well-regarded by his ex-employees and that he had earned their loyalty.

Q:  Is too late for him to get in front of this?  Why – why not?
A:  From a business perspective, it’s probably over.  From the standpoint of preserving his reputation, I’d advise him to do a couple interviews with friendly reporters (probably in Boston or a couple national sports reporters).  He should be candid and forthright, thank and praise his employees, express regret and accept responsibility for his role. 

Q:  What would you advise him NOT to do?
A:  No finger-pointing or bitterness.  This is unlikely to damage him outside Rhode Island, unless he brings it on himself by appearing to be a self-absorbed, entitled jock who blames everyone but himself, tells lies or denies incontrovertible evidence (see: Roger Clemens, Pete Rose)

Q:  Does this hurt his baseball great image?
A:  This is an interesting question, because the consensus seems to be that he is “on the bubble” for the Hall of Fame, something that would matter very much to a guy like him. Fortunately for him, most – if not all – of the people who elect players to the Hall are from outside Rhode Island.  In order to make sure this doesn’t damage him with Hall voters, the interview regimen I outlined above becomes even more important.  If the interviewer is also a Hall of Fame voter, so much the better.

If he executes the interviews well, they should be enough to prevent this episode from damaging his Hall of Fame prospects - and there are scenarios where it might even help.

However, his career as a political activist may not be as robust as it once was, and the days of delivering his stump speech about how government should stay out of the private sector are probably over.

Q:  When advising crisis clients who don’t want to talk — what do you tell them and why?
A:  It is exceedingly rare for silence to be a good option.  In almost every instance I tell clients that they have to fill the vacuum and define their position on their own terms, even if it is only with a written statement.  Keeping silent is a dangerous choice – it lets other people define you on their terms, which is almost without exception a bad idea.  In this case, however, silence doesn’t seem to have done Schilling any meaningful harm – yet.  As facts become known, however, silence will become an increasingly risky choice for him.

Q:  If Schilling were to call you—what is the one thing you would tell him?
A:  I’d ask him how he viewed the viability of the business.  If, as I suspect, he told me it was over, I would suggest that he take steps to protect his reputation.  The lawyer in me would recommend that his attorneys hire our firm as a subcontractor.  We’d set up a couple interviews and we’d put him through some intense media training.

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