Outside of Barack Obama and Paris Hilton, no one has had the media (almost paparazzi) attention as Brett Favre the past couple of months. He’s appeared in media outlets far beyond the sports page (even Entertainment Tonight and the Wall Street Journal). As a fantasy football fanatic and media relations practitioner, the saga was enticing on many levels. So I can’t resist including four media relations lessons that sneaks Packers (and Jets) jersey #4 into the Risdall McKinney blog as well:
1. Lack of contingency planning ruins the best-laid strategies: For a while, it looked like Favre would be wearing purple at the very game that the Packers were to retire his jersey, opening weekend in Green Bay. Packers’ management was clearly surprised that Favre un-retired, even though he’d similarly waffled the previous three seasons. Obviously, there was no contingency plan or ongoing communications and that led to the escalated media attention. In retrospect, a PR person could have shown great value here by preparing during the offseason.
2. Bringing in a high-profile PR ringer midstream can become part of the story: My PR practitioner interest peaked when the Packers brought in White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer (They said he was already scheduled to come, but admitted that the discussion turned to Favre).
3. Pointing fingers often backfires: When the Packers attempted to position the final trade as “Favre deciding he didn’t want to play for Green Bay,” fan reaction was strong. Favre stated all along he wanted to stay, and fan protests and commentary that previously was divided, seems to turn in his favor at that point. Packers management hasn’t repeated it since that day and instead is now focusing on his accomplishments and legacy — a much better key message. A crisis is no time for personal pride that requires you to “be right” or “be liked.”
4. When not controlled, stories take a life of their own: Reporters are not your friends, nor your enemies; but they are competitive. Competition from national reporters camped out at the Packers’ training facility led a local reporter to write the inaccurate tampering claims that Favre talked to the Vikings repeatedly on Packers’ team cell phone. Oops. The more information you can share and have regular briefings in a crisis, the less time for witchhunts.
Incidentally, headlines continued when he later ran a lap after fumbling in practice with his new team. Talk about a reach for a follow up story… How would you, as a practitioner, like every copyedit made by executives to show up on television (or a PR blog, even)?