The NFL’s Commitment to a One-Year Crisis: 7 Mistakes Causing the Crisis to Drag On

Goodellcrisisgerardbraud GoodellcrisisgerardbraudBy Gerard Braud

What expert would advise their client to let a crisis drag on for one year? I suspect the answer is zero. But the NFL’s failure at crisis management and crisis communications essentially means that the punch Ray Rice threw on Valentine’s Day 2014 will have repercussions through February 14, 2015. Here is why and here is how you can keep from making similar mistakes where you work.

1) Failure to fully investigate the Ray Rice case, or a willful attempt to hide all of the facts by officials in the NFL and/or the Ravens, have already caused this crisis to drag out six months longer than necessary. Speed is always your friend in crisis management and crisis communication and it should be a vital part of your written plan. As TMZ pointed out with their video and through their questions at the recent Roger Goodell news conference, it wasn’t very hard to get the facts and evidence.

2) Failure to do the right thing the first time will always haunt you and will cause the crisis to reignite. Just think about it — the Ray Rice case could have been finished by March 1, 2014. Here we are approaching October 1, 2014, and it is still front-page news. This is unacceptable and unprofessional. This demonstrates the NFL doesn’t have a crisis management or crisis communications plan that they follow. This demonstrates that the person at the top lacks true leadership qualities because a good leader would not allow the organization’s brand, reputation, and revenue to be tarnished over eight months.

3) Failure to do the right thing the first time and the eventual re-ignition of the crisis causes the media and others to ask, “What else might we not know? What might they be hiding? What don’t they want us to know?” Those were the questions I asked when I was a reporter. Once a reporter starts digging, it is like pulling a thread on a sweater – eventually it all unravels. The unraveling in this crisis is the additional focus. Scrutiny and penalties have been placed on other players who were previously not clumped in with the Rice case, but who have their cases tainted because of poor crisis management and flawed executive decision making.

4) When the threads unravel, it becomes safer for those who are holding secrets to come forward. This is what led to the ESPN report alleging the Ravens knew everything about the Rice case and allegations that the Ravens worked to have Goodell go easy on Rice. Although the Ravens refute the ESPN report, you can bet ESPN is doubling down on their investigative reporting. As a result, don’t be surprised if this crisis reignites again very soon.

5) Goodell made a further mistake by announcing that by the Super Bowl in February 2015, committees will make recommendations about the consistency of punishment for players and will report on the true status of domestic violence among players. This means Goodell is tainting and overshadowing Super Bowl coverage with an extension of a negative story. This is just dumb. This is intentionally stretching out brand damage, reputational damage, and revenue damage. No smart leader would tie a crisis-related deadline to the most high profile day associated with your organization.

6) Saying you got it wrong is a start, but it is not enough. The reason it is not enough is because there is no plausible reason to have gotten it wrong the first time. Furthermore, throwing money at anti-domestic violence organizations appears to be an insincere act of desperation and diversion. Also, the cynical minds in the audience believe Goodell and team owners, who used the “We got it wrong” line, were really saying, “We got caught and we regret that we got caught,” not doing the right thing, for the right reasons, the first time.

7) Trust is lost when bad decisions are made in the beginning, when flip-flops happen months later, and when the crisis is extended by bad decision-making. When sponsors drop their sponsorship, it means they have lost trust. When customers spend less on merchandise and are less likely to watch games, the lack of trust is amplified. Don’t forget your loss of trust with employees. In this case, Goodell has lost the trust of players.

A few weeks ago when this crisis became front-page news, I called for Goodell to be suspended for one year. This was for the same reason he suspended Saints coach Sean Peyton for a year, based on the concept that the leader should have known what was going on in the organization.

But in light of the seven items outlined above and Goodell’s failure to show leadership in managing and terminating this crisis, my professional advice to the team owners would be to fire Goodell. He has hurt your brand, your reputation and your revenue. Surely there is someone else who can do a better job this time and in the future.

NFL Crisis Communication Plan: 3 Steps to Good Ethics and Leadership in Crisis Management and Communications

goodell whatever

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

By Gerard Braud

Crisis management requires having a written plan that can be followed in every crisis in order to manage both the crisis and the behavior of the decision makers. The written plan helps insure good crisis communications can take place because there will be honest and ethical leadership.

What is honest, ethical leadership in a crisis? Good, ethical behavior is doing in private what you would do if the entire world were watching and listening.

The NFL crisis is embattled by the same type of discussions that likely took place at Penn State during their child abuse scandal. Usually, a bunch of old white guys – yes I said it – gather in a room and all say, “If people find out about this we’re in big trouble. If people find out about this, our reputation will be ruined. If people find out about this, we’ll lose boat loads of money.”

The group usually goes on to make decisions designed to hide the facts from the world as a way to protect their reputation and revenue.

This is always the wrong way to manage a crisis.

The group should be saying, “If we don’t come clean and tell the world about this we will be in big trouble. If we don’t act honestly, our reputation will be damaged. If we enact real change, we can seek forgiveness and repair our reputation and revenue. If we get this wrong, our reputation and revenue will be more damaged than if we hide the truth.”

The institution must end the crisis and not kick the can down the road. The correct way for any institution or company to protect their reputation and revenue is to end the crisis by doing the right thing the first time. This means:

1) Letting the world know the full extent of what you have uncovered in your investigation

2) Punishing those who are at the root of the crisis

3) Announcing steps to keep it from happening again.

 

Roger Goodell and the NFL:

1) Only let the world know part of what happened and likely hid facts they knew

2) Handed down a punishment based on the world not knowing the full truth about Ray Rice

3) Are now announcing steps to give money to groups who advocate against domestic violence.

Domestic violence is not the crisis at hand in the NFL. The crisis is denial, arrogance, and bad ethics by the people responsible for leading the NFL.

Yes, domestic violence is an issue for some players, but so is womanizing, drinking, drugs, DUI, getting in car wrecks, theft, dog fighting, and even murder. The players in the NFL are a representation of the population at large and the NFL can only do so much to raise awareness about all of these issues.

Ray Rice isn’t the first player guilty of domestic violence and will not be the last. The NFL didn’t throw money at domestic violence prevention in the past. So why now? The NFL is trying to distract us from the truth and the failure of the people who failed to be good, ethical leaders.

The people running the NFL are still not getting it right. In fact, they are making their wrong worse.

If my suspicions are true, more truth will come out about what the NFL did and didn’t know. As the truth comes out, credibility will be lost and the institution’s reputation will be further damaged, with a slow erosion of revenue each day the crisis lingers. Some revenue loss will come from the sponsors who pull out. Some revenue loss will come from fans who don’t buy tickets or merchandise.

The NFL must do what all institutions should do from the beginning:

1) Tell the truth

2) Punish not just the players, but the guilty executives as well

3) Announce steps to make sure bad decision-making doesn’t happen again

Suspending Roger Goodell is still a viable option. It needs to be done swiftly in the name of crisis management and ethics.

Gerard Braud Shares NFL Crisis Communications Advice With Radio Host Kate Delaney of America Tonight and NBC Sports Radio

As the communication silence continues from the NFL, everyone wants to know when the crisis will end. Kate Delaney called Gerard Braud for his expert opinion on the crisis.

Failed Crisis Management Leadership Hits Multiple NFL Players and Teams

Braudcast Sept 18 NFLBy Gerard Braud

The NFL crisis gets bigger in the absence of a quality crisis communications plan and good executive leadership.

Adrian Peterson and a string of other players and teams are being swept up in the crisis because as the appointed leader of the NFL, Roger Goodell failed to make the right decisions at the beginning of the Ray Rice crisis.

With each passing day, Goodell’s failure to communicate makes the crisis worse.

An expert crisis communication plan involves having a strategy that fully addresses the potential damage to an institution’s reputation and revenue. The slower an institution is to respond, the more the crisis spreads and the more damage to reputation and revenue.

What about where you work? Do your leaders have a crisis management and crisis communications plan? Do the people with the high titles possess true leadership qualities, especially in a crisis?

Most institutions fail to have a plan that would truly serve their needs in a crisis. Many have a few sheets of paper in a binder that states some standard operating procedures. These are comfort plans – they make people feel good because the word crisis plan is on a piece of paper. But experience shows that most institutions fail to write the type of deep crisis communications plan needed to handle every type of crisis they may face.

Most institutions fail to consider both emergency type crises as well as the smoldering ethical issues within the organization.

Many executives are in denial early in a crisis and throughout the crisis, as they hope and pray it will go away. Hope is not a crisis communications strategy. I believe in the power of prayer, but I also believe that your actions during a crisis can be guided by a crisis communications plan so you can eliminate the need for prayer.

The reality is, the longer it lingers, the worse it gets.

Eventually reputation and revenue are damaged significantly enough that someone at the top gets fired.

Because Goodell has been weak, the crisis has spread to other teams and players, causing sponsors to pull out or threaten to pull out.

My prediction is the NFL owners will soon be calling for Goodell to resign.

In yesterday’s blog and in radio interviews with America Tonight and NBC Sports Radio, my suggestion to Goodell is that he suspend himself for one year. You can read more from my previous entry.

Adrian PetersonWill this kind of failure to lead in a crisis happen someday where you work? It doesn’t have to if you prepare for it with a crisis communications plan and conduct regular drills that role-play various types of crises, especially those that deal with hard moral and ethical decisions.

Good crisis communications and crisis management should never be based on spontaneous decisions and strategies in the midst of your crisis. Good crisis communications and crisis management is derived from writing strong plans on a clear sunny day.

Did the NFL Miss a Crisis Management and Crisis Communication Opportunity on Sunday?

Roger goodell gerard braudBy Gerard Braud

Sunday football arrived without a plan for NFL management to end the Ray Rice crisis. Nor did they manage the crisis surrounding what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell knew and didn’t know.

Fans continue to call for Goodell to be fired. Is there another option for crisis management and crisis communications shy of Goodell’s termination?

Sometimes the best plan is to look for a creative solution that hasn’t yet been considered in the crisis.

What if the crisis management solution was for Goodell to communicate to the Sunday NFL audience that he was suspending himself for one year? It would have displayed leadership in a crisis and managed the crisis to a conclusion.

Is this the best expert advice that crisis managers and crisis communications counselors could make? It would be the creative crisis management solution I would suggest.

Sean PaytonConsider this — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for one year even though he didn’t know that his defensive coach was running a bounty program for defensive players. Payton received a one-year suspension because Goodell said that as the head coach, it happened on Payton’s watch. Payton, as the top leader, was held responsible by Goodell.

So, many call for Goodell to be fired and he goes into classic executive denial, diversion and potential cover-up about what he knew. The best way for him to end the current crisis would be to suspend himself on the grounds that the Rice incident happened on his watch. If someone within the NFL had video of the punch in the elevator and Goodell didn’t see it, then by default, Goodell is as guilty as Payton.

If we learn Goodell did know about the video, or saw the video, and/or was told by Ray Rice about the punch, yet failed to serve Rice his harsh penalty until the world saw the punch video, then we have a classic case of leadership failure in a crisis. We have a case of an executive acting one way toward others, yet having different rules for himself. We have a case of an executive who was wishing it would all go away, but who was forced to respond differently when the world learned more.

Crisis management requires good ethics and good ethical decisions. Expert crisis management only happens with the executive’s words and actions are one in the same. Are the executives actions congruent with his or her words? When they are, the executive is a leader. When they are not congruent, the executive fails to be a leader.

The more I watch this crisis the more I expect it to get worse. When a crisis is allowed to smolder this long it results only in more damage to reputation and revenue. Experts will tell you that the faster you end the crisis, the faster revenue and reputation are restored.

Leadership in a crisis happens when hard decisions are made quickly. A self-suspension is a great compromise shy of Goodell being fired. If Goodell fails to take a bold step, then his job is one the line, as it should be, for failing at crisis management and crisis communications.

3 Questions to Ask about the Intersection of Crisis Management, Crisis Communication, and Crisis Communications Plans: The NFL

By Gerard Braud

rayrice apAnother crisis management and crisis communication lesson plays out in the NFL as the Associated Press reports the NFL had a copy of the videotape showing Ray Rice punching his fiance in the face.

This exposes a crisis management and crisis communication weakness found in many organizations, which either involves leaders intentionally covering up a crisis or the crisis management team not fully sharing information. This prevents everyone from connecting the dots in a way that results in the best resolution of the crisis and full, honest communications about that resolution.

Here are three questions you can ask today to have a better crisis management and crisis communications plan.

1) When a crisis unfolds, do you have a central hub within the crisis management team in which all information is collected and disseminated to the key decision makers? If there is or was such a system within the NFL, a videotape of the punch would have been shared with the crisis management team. If there is and was a system, then we have a case of unethical behavior, personified by a cover-up and possible lies in media interviews by Roger Goodell.

2) Does your crisis communications plan have a predetermined list of questions that you will ask in every crisis so that everyone is always on the same page? This is one of the most powerful tools you can have and a vital part of all of the crisis communications plans I write.

3) Is there conflict in your organization because ethical decisions about a crisis often take a backseat to legal arguments by lawyers or financial arguments from the CFO? Those arguments often result in everyone taking a vow of silence so the organization doesn’t get sued, resulting in a loss of reputation and revenue. This is the job of communication experts in the room: Connect the dots for everyone else. Focus on the long-term reputational and financial health of the organization by doing the right thing and not the most convenient thing in the short-term.

Smoldering crises like the NFL Ray Rice case often cause various leaders to connect the dots only in a way that is immediately best for their interest, rather than in a way that is best for the long-term health of the organization, its leaders, and in many cases, the victims of the crisis.

Rayrice blog gerard braudFor example, in the case of Penn State, we saw the university fail to expose the crime of sexual abuse out of fear of reputational damage and a loss of revenue. This short-term failure resulted in more boys being victims of sexual abuse, greater reputational harm, a larger financial loss, and top leaders being fired.

In the case of the NFL, many experts believe the only reason the NFL has taken a tough stand on concussions is because of a lawsuit that would damage their reputation and lead to a huge financial loss if the lawsuit went to trial. It was not done years ago when it could have been.

When powerful people hide the facts from the world, as a way to avoid reputational and revenue loss in a crisis, you are witnessing unethical behavior in a crisis. In most cases the secret becomes public, executives get fired, the institution’s reputation is damaged, and revenue is lost. Stay tuned to see what happens with the NFL.

4 Crisis Communications Lessons as the NFL Management Struggles with the Ray Rice Smoldering Crisis

Rayrice blog gerard braudBy Gerard Braud

The NFL has a crisis. Do they have a plan? Will the crisis get worse because of non-verbal communications? Can the NFL management communicate their way out of the crisis? Below are some observations and suggestions to help you cope with your own corporate crisis.

The non-verbal message from the NFL is that they are more concerned about one man hitting another man in the head on the field than they are about a man – essentially an employee – hitting a woman in the head, or more specifically, punching the woman in the face.

That non-verbal message speaks volumes and creates a crisis within a crisis.

Another part of the crisis is the NFL’s failure to obtain the most compelling video of the actual punch. TMZ – not even the mainstream media, but the tabloid media – did what the NFL could not or would not. From a non-verbal standpoint, this communicates that the NFL didn’t want to try as hard as they could, fearing the crisis might get worse. As we see, the crisis did get worse and is getting worse because the NFL executive management failed to fully investigate the crisis, perhaps in fear of what they might discover.

On the plus side, NFL commissioner Robert Goodell has done media interviews and apologized. In too many crisis case studies there is a clear failure to apologize.

On the plus side, sporting goods stores have positioned themselves as heroes in the crisis by communicating their willingness to exchange Ray Rice football jerseys for new jerseys if a fan regrets owning a Rice jersey. This is great customer service and frankly, great public relations, for essentially “doing the right thing.”

On the plus side, AE Sports is removing Rice from their video games. Again, this is great public relations, for doing the right thing.

Both the sporting goods stores and AE Sports have actually capitalized on the crisis in a way you might not have expected, but in a way that creatively allows them to denounce violence against women.

When crisis management is botched because of failed communications, there is usually fallout. Usually people get fired and revenue is lost.

People are already calling for Goodell to resign. Will he lose his job because of the perception created that he and the NFL were protecting their player hoping the fallout would not get worse? More than one expert is predicting a revenue loss for NFL sportswear among females, after years of high revenue growth from apparel sales to women.

What can you learn from this crisis?

1) When a smoldering crisis breaks out, you, the public relations professional, must vigorously investigate the case behind the crisis. Approach it like an expert prosecutor or an expert investigative reporter. You need to know what the executives might not want to know or what the executives know but have not told you.

2) The PR team must also look for executives who are in denial. Denial is characterized by the executive team’s subtle attempts to move forward as though the smoldering crisis will not ignite.

3) On a clear sunny day, make sure your crisis communications plan outlines procedures for investigating a smoldering crisis and responding to a smoldering crisis. Too many PR people and corporate crisis communication plans are structured to respond only to natural disasters and sudden emergencies. It is a huge crisis communication plan failure to not anticipate your reaction to a smoldering crisis.

4) Define a crisis for your organization as anything that can affect both the reputation and revenue of the organization. The NFL crisis is a perfect example of something that is neither a natural disaster nor a sudden emergency, but certainly something that will affect both the reputation and revenue of the organization.

Experts will tell you that in most organizations and corporations, you are more likely to face a smoldering crisis than you are to face a sudden emergency or natural disaster.

If you have more questions about preparing for a smoldering crisis please give me a call at 985-624-9976.