Tom Brady: Hero Worship Leads To Lame Crisis Response

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 8, 2015 – 4:02 pm

On Wednesday, a 243-page report found it was “more probable than not” that New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady was “at least generally aware of the inappropriate actions” his team’s staff took to deflate footballs in January’s AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.

In other words, there’s a better chance than not that Brady is a lying cheater.

Yesterday, Brady gave his first interview since the report’s release as part of a prescheduled interview at Salem State University. If you believed Brady was innocent of the allegations against him before the interview, you might have changed your mind after watching him dodge question after question in a manner that strained credulity. 

Interviewer Jim Gray did his journalistic duty by asking Brady for his reaction to the report. The audience heartily booed every question Gray asked on the matter and enthusiastically applauded every Brady evasion.

Kelly Carlin, George’s daughter, summed up the interview perfectly in a tweet last night:

Kelly Carlin Tweet

I believe the crowd’s hero worship will work against Brady, who relished the audience’s response and hid behind their angry boos to Gray’s fair and necessary questions. Brady’s response may not lose him any diehard fans, but the audience beyond the room—including many people reasonably asking whether Brady is the latest Lance Armstrong, Mark McGwire, or Barry Bonds—were probably not impressed.

My biggest problem with this interview is that his tone was generally unserious. The questions swirling around him go to the center of integrity, honestly, and playing within the rules. Regardless of his guilt or innocence, he treated the cheating allegations with a defiant and casual air instead of as the legacy-tarnishing accusations they are.

Tom Brady Jim Gray 2

Brady should have stepped up and managed the crowd. He would have scored points by encouraging them to listen to Gray’s questions respectfully and giving him a chance to respond to them. He could have said:

“Jim is asking me fair questions, and it’s his job to ask them. So let me do my best to answer them.”

If he didn’t want to answer the questions, he could have said something along the lines of what he did say at one point during the interview:

“I haven’t had time to read the full report yet, and I’d like to have the chance to read it in full before commenting on it.”

Instead, he hid behind a hometown crowd, made a lame joke about his reading skills, and played the victim. And not once did he say he was innocent. All of that leads me to believe that he’s a cheater.

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Bad Tweet Gets This Man Fired—But Look How He Handled It

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on May 1, 2015 – 4:02 am

Chad Shanks, the man tasked with running digital communications for the Houston Rockets, was fired on Wednesday after sending the following tweet just before his team defeated the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night:

Chad Shanks Houston Rockets Tweet

As you can see from the number of times his message was retweeted, his tweet quickly became the source of Twitter conversation. Some people were outraged by the violence-based emoji; others thought the trash talking was funny. Personally, I find it a bit crass and unsportsmanlike.

The Rockets fired Shanks the next day.

We’ve all seen this narrative repeatedly: Someone tweets something questionable, Internet seeks justice, perpetrator loses his or her job. But this story is different, because Mr. Shanks proceeded to offer a master class in how to respond to such a situation with grace.

First, he tweeted the following messages:

Chad Shanks Apology Tweets

He also offered a longer statement to the Houston Chronicle:

“I never meant to offend anybody,” Shanks said. “I attempted an admittedly edgy jab at the Mavericks’ expense and it did not go over well with everyone. The organization supported my efforts to make the account one of the best in the NBA by pushing the envelope, but they deemed this too far.

“I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities and experiences I got from the Rockets and know they acted in what they thought was their best interest (to) avoid any more controversy. I didn’t mean to advocate violence toward animals; just let my emotions get the best of me in a jab at the Mavs that was not very well thought out. I’m proud of my four seasons of award winning work with the Rockets and will always be a fan. I wish there would’ve been another method of punishment, but I have no ill feelings toward them. I loved my job.”

His self-awareness, honest reflection, and class toward his former employer leaves me with the inescapable conclusion that the Rockets reacted too quickly and doled out unnecessarily harsh justice. I understand why the Rockets were upset—such tweets are certainly antithetical to their brand—but Mr. Shanks comes across as the type of person who understands his infraction and would have taken steps not to repeat them.

That’s the kind of guy I’d want on my team.

As unjust as his firing might be, his handling of it will almost surely raise his value in the marketplace. Another team would be smart to grab him before someone else does.

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How To Guarantee More Media Coverage For Your Topic

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 23, 2015 – 5:03 am

There’s no better way to guarantee more media coverage for an issue you don’t want the media to cover than to blow up at a reporter about that issue. Especially if your blowup is recorded.

Bryan Price, the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, serves as the latest case study. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“Upset by the accurate reports that All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco was not with the team for Sunday’s game in St. Louis, Price went on a five-minute, 34-second expletive-filled tirade in his daily session with reporters.” 

An “expletive-filled tirade” is, if anything, an understatement. In just 634 seconds, Price said “fuck” 77 times. That’s a “fuck-per-second” ratio of one f-bomb every eight seconds. And, not surprisingly, his vulgar rant went viral, drawing more attention to the very story he wished had been buried.

Even worse, Price seems to have a completely inaccurate belief about the proper role of the press: 

“I don’t understand what the importance is for everybody to know if we have a player that’s not here. We don’t benefit at all from the other teams knowing that we don’t have a player. You don’t have to be a Reds fan, but it doesn’t help us if our opponents know who’s here and who isn’t…I don’t need you guys to be fans of the Reds, I just need to know that if there’s something we want to keep here that it stays here…Your job is not to sniff out every fucking thing about the Reds and fucking put it out there for every other fucking guy to hear. It’s not your job…How the fuck does that benefit the Reds? It doesn’t benefit us one fucking bit. ”

Instead of viewing the media as a collection of independent journalists, Price appears to believe they should function as an appendage of the Reds, writing only the items that would benefit his team. That belief is, in many ways, more troubling than the tirade itself.

On Tuesday, Price offered a partial apology via Twitter:

“In my pre-game conversation with reporters yesterday, I used wholly inappropriate language to describe the media coverage of our team. While I stand by the content of my message, I am sorry for the choice of words.”

Bryan_Price_2011 via Keith Allison Wikimedia Commons

That’s too bad. He got two things wrong in his rant—the language and the idea behind the language—but he only apologized for the former. And although Price’s frustration is somewhat understandable—it’s too bad that a major leaguer finds out that he’s being sent to the minors through a media report before the team officially tells him—it’s just a part of today’s media culture that he’ll have to accept. The Reds’ media strategy, like that of any competitive business, must reflect the fact that the press sometimes gets news quicker than they might wish.

We’ll now see if Price’s rant has a chilling effect on reporters who want to maintain access and therefore temper their coverage, or if it only encourages local reporters to continue doing their jobs as they should.

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Photo credit: Keith Allison, Wikimedia Commons


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January 2015: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 1, 2015 – 2:02 am

Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has a reputation for his erratic media interviews—and he has been fined thousands of dollars by the NFL for his occasional refusal to speak to the press.

In the week leading up to tonight’s Super Bowl, Lynch agreed to comply with the NFL’s requirement that he speak to the press, if only to avoid receiving a reported $500,000 penalty. But he only followed the letter of the rule—not the spirit of it—and defiantly said, “I’m here so I won’t get fined” dozens of times.

 

By refusing to interact with reporters, Lynch turned himself into a headline-grabbing spectacle who magnified the amount of attention his interview would receive instead of diminishing it. And he doubled down the next day.

“I don’t know what story y’all trying to get out of me. I don’t know what image y’all trying to portray of me. But it don’t matter what y’all think, what y’all say about me. When I go home at night, the same people that I look in the face — my family that I love. That’s all that really matter to me. So y’all can go make up whatever y’all want to make up because I don’t say enough for y’all to go and put anything out on me.”

I’ve followed the conversation about Lynch’s interviews for the past week, and there’s a stark split in opinion. Many people support him, pointing out that the NFL demands more availability of its players than its executives, while others, including many sports reporters, find his defiance infuriating.

Count me in the latter camp. Mr. Lynch is a professional athlete. And nothing about his public persona conveys a sense of professionalism.

I’ve seen people arguing that his job is to perform on the field, not in front of microphones. I find that argument to be insulting toward professional athletes, several of whom I’ve counted as clients. After all, we would never say, “That Fortune 500 executive is great in the board room, so his defiance in front of the cameras is hilarious,” or, “That politician who told the press to shove off for four minutes is great at policy, so it’s fine for him to repeat the same phrase 30 times.” So why do we accept that behavior from professional athletes representing a professional sports franchise and sport?

Marshawn Lynch Interview

Earlier this month, a friend of mine—the communications director for a major professional sports franchise—told me why this poor media relations strategy matters. In a post on my blog, he wrote:

“We grow any of the games we work in through young kids, and for them to see this does not help the game…I want players in my room respecting the media and the media respecting the players and the job they do. It is my job to keep that scale as even as possible throughout the season.  Dealing with players, their goal is to make their team and themselves look the best they can, both on and off the field.”

And he also wrote that athletes such as Lynch should remember that their media performance could have larger impacts on their careers:

“I’ve seen it happen when the attitudes of players prevents teams from ‘investing’ in them. As important as it is to compete on the playing field/ice/gym, when it comes time to sign a free agent or make a trade, all of these things go into an organization’s evaluation process. Is ‘said player’ worth disrupting the current team?” 

I hope the NFL fines Lynch for breaking the intention of the rule. Media availabilities are opportunities to positively sell the sport—something the NFL is in dire need of, particularly in a season that has been dominated by headlines about domestic abuse and brain injuries. This doesn’t help. And in the end, team sports should be about the team, not serve as an opportunity to advance your own performance art.

Agree? Disagree? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

 


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PR Fail: Look Behind You!

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 27, 2015 – 9:45 am

Late last week, New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick and Quarterback Tom Brady (below) tried to take the air out of accusations that they had intentionally deflated game balls during their AFC Championship Game win.

Unfortunately, it looked as if the Patriots’ PR staff didn’t consider the background those two spokespersons would be standing in front of while denying the charge. As both men spoke, an advertisement for Gillette’s “Flexball” razor served as their backdrop, an unfortunate coincidence noted by thousands of people on social media.

(There are two other possible explanations—one, the Patriots were under a legal obligation to use that background, and two, Gillette willingly took the risk to be associated with this controversy in return for the additional exposure.)

Tom Brady Gillette

 

The Patriots are far from alone in using an ill-considered background. In 2010, for example, MSNBC President Phil Griffin announced his network’s new branding strategy in a self-produced video—while CNN played in the background.

Phil Griffin

 

Last year, the former U.S. ambassador to Poland, Lee Feinstein, gave an interview to the BBC with what looked to be a sloppy dorm room behind him. I dubbed this “the worst webcam background I’ve ever seen.” 

Lee Feinstein Background

 

And in one of my all-time favorite clips that readers of this blog have seen before, then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin pardoned a Thanksgiving turkey—while turkeys were being slaughtered behind her.

 

I gave some advice about choosing the right background in my book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need To Know Before Your Next Interview:

“Company representatives might stand on a bustling factory floor to show their business’s vitality. Marine biologists might remove their shoes and deliver an interview from the water’s edge. A health expert discussing the seriousness of diabetes might choose to do an interview from a local hospital’s emergency room.

Your background is even more important during a crisis. As a general rule of thumb, don’t display your logo during a crisis. Why help the audience remember that your brand is associated with bad news? That means you shouldn’t stand in front of any signs, buildings, or awnings that feature your company’s symbol. Also avoid wearing any clothing, caps, or pins that bear your company’s name.”

It’s easy to understand how these things happen: We become so fixated on the messages we want to deliver that we too often forget about the optics. So before your next interview, take a quick glance around you to make sure nothing in the background could conflict with your message.

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Athlete Fails To “Execute” During Train Wreck Interview

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 22, 2015 – 4:02 am

Russell Westbrook, an All-Star point guard with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, recently gave an interview that didn’t go so well.

As you’ll see in the clip below, he gave the same defiant answer repeatedly: “Good execution.” He gave that answer even when it didn’t answer the question. And, in a moment of candor that spokespersons occasionally fantasize about, he flat out told one reporter, “I don’t like you.”

Westbrook’s interview seems even stranger in light of the fact that his team won the game—and he had a terrific night.

To see how fans were reacting to Westbrook’s passive-aggressive interviewing approach, I delved into the comments section of several sports websites. It turns out that many fans defended Westbrook. Their argument went as follows: We hate the media, Westbrook gave them a taste of their own medicine, and good for Westbrook for doing so.

I think they’re wrong. Representing your brand well matters whether you’re a corporate vice president, a political candidate, or a professional athlete. And Westbrook made the fundamental error of forgetting that his audience wasn’t the reporter, but the people watching the interview—you know, the fans who pay his salary.

To get another perspective, I contacted a friend of mine, the communications director for a major sports team who deals with top-level athletes every day. He wrote:

“We grow any of the games we work in through young kids, and for them to see this does not help the game…I want players in my room respecting the media and the media respecting the players and the job they do. It is my job to keep that scale as even as possible throughout the season.  Dealing with players, their goal is to make their team and themselves look the best they can, both on and off the field.”

If he had a player interact with a reporter the same way Westbrook did, he would do the following:

“First thing I’m doing is having the conversation with my player as to what set them off to do so. After that talk, I would speak to the writer if I feel it is necessary to make sure they know there is a problem brewing. After that, I judge whether it would be best to bring a writer in to speak to the player one-on-one to talk it out, with everything off the record.”

Russell Westbrook Interview

He also says he wouldn’t have allowed the interview to continue for as long as Westbrook’s:

“I’m cutting it off…immediately, when I see what is going on and not allowing reporters to continue to ask questions. The player wants it to be a spectacle to embarrass the reporter and have people talking about it. The reporter(s) want to keep going because it allows him/her to continue to provoke the same answer which makes the player look ridiculous. So, I’m cutting it off immediately and allowing the reporter to write about me cutting it off if he wants. Then, I’m setting up this meeting between the player and this reporter he supposedly hates to clear this thing before it becomes more and more of a spectacle.” 

And in case you’re still not convinced that athletes should take their media interactions more seriously, these final lines should make them think again:

“From the management side, I’ve seen it happen when the attitudes of players prevents teams from ‘investing’ in them. As important as it is to compete on the playing field/ice/gym, when it comes time to sign a free agent or make a trade, all of these things go into an organization’s evaluation process. Is ‘said player’ worth disrupting the current team?”

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Roger Goodell’s Press Conference: Did He Say Enough?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 19, 2014 – 5:12 pm

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell finally faced reporters today in an effort to save his job and quell growing public outrage over his poor handling of a domestic abuse case involving a player.

The Context

The crisis began when this video, showing Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice dragging his fiancée’s unconscious body off an elevator, appeared on TMZ.

 

Despite seeing that video and confirming directly with Ray Rice that he had hit his fiancée, Goodell decided to suspend him for just two games, far less than many players get for smoking a joint. When TMZ released new video of Rice actually punching her, the public reaction was even more profound.

 

How Did He Do Today?

Goodell adhered to many crisis communications best practices. Among other things, he:

  1. 1. Apologized directly and unequivocally: “I got it wrong with the Ray Rice matter, and I apologize for that…I let myself down. I let everyone else down.”
  2. 2. Expressed his commitment to make it right: “We have seen too much of the NFL doing wrong. That starts with me…but now I will get it right and do whatever it takes to accomplish that.”
  3. 3. Appointed a third party investigator—former FBI director Robert Mueller—to examine the League’s handling of this situation and make recommendations to strengthen its personal conduct policies.
  4. 4. Partnered with and made significant financial contributions to domestic abuse organizations.
  5. 5. Brought in experts on domestic abuse to help the League improve its policies.
  6. 6. Conveyed a serious tone that made clear that he was chastened by this incident and committed to doing better.

Roger Goodell Press Conference

 

And Yet…

There are times when checking all of the “Crisis Communications 101” boxes isn’t enough, and when doing many of the right things simply comes too late.

What’s inescapable is that Mr. Goodell is only giving this press conference now because he missed numerous opportunities to do the right thing when he originally had the chance. He appeared to blame the League’s pathetic two-game suspension of Rice on an outdated personal conduct policy written in 2007, as if domestic abuse is a new issue that’s cropped up in the past seven years.

As a result, this entire press conference was reactive, not proactive. It was done out of necessity, not choice, which tends to at least partially undercut even the most sincere statements of apology. 

 

The Question I’m Still Left Asking

It appears that the NFL, rightfully bruised by this crisis, has finally committed to taking this issue more seriously. But Mr. Goodell failed to answer one critical question during his press conference: Why does he need to be the person to lead the NFL through these changes? Why is this man, who just a few months ago thought that a brutal assault of a woman warranted a mere two-game suspension, the best person to demonstrate the seriousness with which the NFL suddenly treats this topic?

As the clip above shows, Goodell tries to answer that by saying that he’s still capable of leading since he has now acknowledged his mistake. That’s a thin rationale, and it’s one that appears at odds with the stance he takes with players. As Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith tweeted: 

Torrey Smith

 

Will His Press Conference Work?

Goodell’s job today wasn’t to end the crisis but to staunch the bleeding. He might have succeeded in that.

Appearing before cameras—even if his performance was far from perfect—might serve to take some of the air out of this story. He might even get lucky if another non-NFL sports crisis breaks and distracts reporters and fans from the NFL’s problems for a while.

The League’s owners appear to be giving him time to make things right. Based on today’s performance, my hunch is that he’ll hang on as commissioner for a while and that his resignation isn’t imminent. What do you think?

 

From a Crisis Management Perspective, How Did Roger Goodell Do Today?

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July 2014: The Worst Video Media Disaster

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 31, 2014 – 6:02 am

A grand jury indicted Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice in March for third-degree aggravated assault. The indictment stems from an incident that took place in February, in which Rice allegedly knocked out his then-fiancée, now wife, Janay Palmer.

The video below, posted by TMZ, appears to show Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator. 

The National Football League announced last week that it would suspend Rice for the first two games of the season—a penalty that many football fans, women, and other humanoids who care about things like not abusing women—found infuriatingly unserious.

For context, the NFL has suspended dozens of players for four games or more for violating the League’s drug policy. Smoke a joint? Miss four games. Knock your soon-to-be-wife out cold? Just two.

Rice’s boss—Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh—responded to the controversy last week with a flip tone that only served to inflame the situation:

”There are consequences when you make a mistake like that. I stand behind Ray, he’s a heck of a guy, he’s done everything right since, he makes a mistake, alright? He’s going to have to pay a consequence.”

Calling Rice’s conduct a “mistake” that was committed by a “heck of a guy” was tone-deaf—one wonders if Harbaugh would have given domestic abusers Ike Turner, Charlie Sheen, and Chris Brown the same benefit of the doubt (probably not, unless they could run for a touchdown). But his concluding comment was the reason I named him this month’s worst video media disaster:

”I think it’s good for kids to understand that it works that way, and that’s how it works. That’s how it should be.”

Give us a break, Coach. Don’t try to wrap this incident within a virtue. The only lesson you and the league have taught kids is that you will be welcomed back to the game with open arms by your coaches and teammates—and receive millions of dollars in 2014—as long as you sit out for two weeks.

If there’s any lesson here for kids aspiring to become a member of the NFL, it’s that it would be less consequential to beat your wife than it would be to smoke a joint.

John Harbaugh Ray Rice

Here’s an exercise you can do that shows why his response failed: Press play on the two videos above simultaneously. Does Harbaugh’s response seem even remotely congruent with the video of Rice dragging his lover off the elevator? Or does it come across as blithely dismissive?

What should Harbaugh have said? How’s this:

“Domestic abuse is a serious situation, and our team has absolutely no tolerance for it. Ray needs to pay a price for his actions—and he will not be welcome back onto this team until he does. People may debate the severity of his suspension, but what’s not up for debate is that fact that we agree wholeheartedly that he deserves to be punished.”

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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