Pub Club Recap: Calming a Crisis in a Sports-Crazed World

Earlier this week, I attended and photographed the Pub Club’s sports crisis communications panel, where key figures from the world of sports PR, marketing and journalism discussed how they handle situations in their establishments, as well as how they decide to write about them.

As we all know, 2014 was a trying year for professional sports teams, especially those in the NFL. Whether it’s because of a serious, violence-related allegation or a simple miscommunication on social media, athletes are constantly under the public’s eye. For teams to keep their brand reputation clean – or, in some cases, lessen the blow of serious controversy – some sort of a response is almost always necessary.

Moderator Alex Reimer, a sports columnist for the Boston Herald and BostInno, led a discussion with panelists Heather Walker, PR director for the Boston Celtics, and Jim Delaney, president of Activate Sports & Entertainment. They shared insight on how they’ve handled crisis communications involving the sports teams and venues they’ve worked for.

Here are three key takeaways from the event

1. “No Comment” Still Does Not Fly.

As Reimer put it, there’s nothing worse than reading (or writing) that last line of an article, “XYZ source was reached, but declined to comment.” To a reader, this seems like an admission of guilt, so to those in PR, “no comment” is really only an acceptable response if it’s required by legal teams. Even then, Walker shared that it’s better to tell the reporter that, although you can’t say anything now due to legal implications, you will come back to it when it’s time.

At the very least, Delaney added, as PR and marketing professionals, we should be able to craft words that essentially mean no comment, without actually saying “no comment. As he said: “The Patriots say and do nothing, but they sound great saying it. A delay of getting around it.”

Bottom line? Anything is better than those two words no one likes to hear

2. Know The Facts Before Responding.

Though fans and media will likely expect an immediate response when a potential controversy or rumor arises, sharing information without checking the facts solely to be “timely” is never a good idea – especially in a crisis. Not only could this damage the reputation of an organization, but journalists could harm their own credibility if they make a reporting mistake in the process of trying to be the first to break the news.

Walker shared that accuracy is always better: “It’s better to wait and be factual than respond too quickly with inaccurate information – and always find out what happened directly from the source.

3. Planning Ahead Does, In Fact, Help In Times of Crisis.

The most important part of crisis management is handling the situation quickly and sufficiently, and by having a proactive plan in place, you’ll be ahead of the game. Of course, it’s unlikely for any crisis to be the same, but having a simple strategy in place is half the battle.

As Delaney said: “You’re always going to get knocked off your plan, but having spokespeople mapped out and pre-planning for potential crisis’ is important. It’s not if something will happen, but more so when. Knowing the plan makes all the difference.”

Walker also shared that she feels there’s a lot of psychology in the PR work she does, and that learning athletes’ personalities and taking a proactive approach can help the team’s image. She shared the example of Celtics power forward Brandon Bass, who did not know how to swim. Walker connected with the Boys and Girls Club of Boston to schedule Bass to take classes with a number of young members, and increased water safety awareness in the process. This allowed the Celtics to participate with the community in a positive manner, and all for a great cause.

All in all, it was a fun and educational event. Here are the photos I captured:

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This post was contributed by March Communications’ Assistant Account Executive Jenna Burpee.

Twitter: @MarchPR.