“So…” What University Spokespeople Need to Stop Doing

Crisis Communication - Gerard Braud - Crisis TrainingSoooooo…. I’ve noticed a bad trend in media interviews. Soooooo…. it appears people think every sentence needs to start with “Soooooo….” Soooooo…. stop it already!

Soooooo… I see this a lot among university professors and experts in higher education who are being interviewed by the media. I hear it way too much in radio interviews on NPR.

I first noticed this alarming trend while teaching media training to engineers and IT experts. It has since spread into colleges and universities.

Normal people don’t talk like that. But it is spreading, not like any ordinary virus, but like a global pandemic. I was teaching media training oversees recently and a petroleum engineer with a major oil company had the same bad habit. During our media training role playing on camera, she began every answer with “Soooooo….”

Sooooooo…..  If you hear it, please try to put a stop to it. Otherwise the pandemic will infect every conversation and media interview in the future.

The Fog of Decision Paralysis: A Lesson in Crisis Behavior

Fog_CrashBy Gerard Braud –

The fog of decision paralysis is common in schools and universities when there is a crisis that requires effective communications with great speed and haste. Let me explain what I mean when I say, “the fog of decision paralysis.”

Dive in with me, if you will, on an incredibly foggy morning. We are crossing a 12 mile long bridge over Lake Pontchartrain from Mandeville, Louisiana to New Orleans. We’re on this 12 mile bridge because the 24-mile long Lake Pontchartrain Causeway bridge is closed because of zero visibility.

The fog is so thick it’s as though our headlights are reflecting off of a bright, white wall.

Our forward visibility is at most three to four feet.

If you were in this situation, what would you do?

What would you foresee happening?

I was actually in that situation on December 31, 1996. I was still asking myself this question and preparing for a possible crisis, when a white, Ford F-150 pickup truck swept by me. He was in the left lane driving far too fast. It took only a flash for him to disappear into the fog.

Within an instant I saw his taillights bounce high into the air. He had rear-ended a slower moving car. The two cars were then faced sideways blocking both lanes of the interstate.

Because I was driving slow… I was able to stop short of making impact. But then I heard the horrendous sounds of screeching brakes behind me.

As I looked in my rear view mirror. I could see headlights closing in on me rapidly.

I steered slightly to the left; the lights veered to my right and smashed into the truck.

I was witnessing the beginning of what would soon be a 70 car pile-up.

There were more screeching brakes… more headlights… more crunching metal.

I continued to steer slightly more to the left and out of the way with each continuing wave of arriving headlines. Each cluster of cars piled into the debris field in front of them.

Soon a green minivan hit the pile and flew in the air tumbling end over end. It landed upside down. Soon a small white pick-up was being crushed like an accordion.

The sounds of crashes seem unending. By now I had inched from the right lane, across the left lane, and onto the shoulder of the bridge. I was making spit-second decisions. I was taking action based on the events around me.

Then there was a brief lull. I reached my left hand slowly across my body and unbuckled my seat belt so I could help rescue those in need. I suspected some are likely dead. The lady in the flipped minivan was first on my mind, followed by the guy in the truck that was squished like an accordion.

But before reaching for the door handle I glanced in the rear view mirror one last time.

And as I looked up into my rear view mirror, all I could see were these letters. They were backwards: G- r- e-y-h-o-oohhhhhhhhh…greyhound-braud

I jerked the car one last time to the left until my rims were grinding against the curb. And by some miracle… the bus slipped by me in slow motion.

And as I followed the bus with my eyes, there in front of it was the first car to have been hit. It was still blocking the highway. The woman driving the car had been frozen in panic. All this time she had done nothing. All the while I was making spit-second decisions and taking action to avoid being hit. Meanwhile she was just sitting in her car, sideways across the left lane of traffic; the left lane now occupied by the Greyhound bus that was sliding past me in slow motion as the bus driver stood on his breaks. And the woman in the car… I watched the horror on her face… she raised both of her hands across her face. I watched as she screamed…

…and the Greyhound plowed into her car door. He windows shattered into a thousand shards of glass. Her car crumpled like a tin can, spinning down the bridge the way a tin can spins when kicked down the street by a child.

Then there was silence.

I exited my car. I crawled out onto the railing of the bridge.

I walked around the back of my car into the piles of crumpled cars and dazed drivers. The space between my car’s right side and the side of the bus was approximately eight inches. I eased between my back bumper and the bus so I could go check on the lady in the first car.

Out of 70 cars, my car was the only one without a scratch. No one had hit me.

It was a miracle. But I also did something the driver hit by the bus did not do: I took action.

In this world… there are some people who react and respond… and there are some who fall into fog of decision paralysis.

The fog of decision paralysis often strikes people in administrative roles at schools and universities. When faced with a crisis, they often do nothing to effectively communicate to key audiences, as if they are paralyzed with fear.

Doing nothing is unacceptable. Doing nothing makes things worse.

In the age of Twitter, you must decide today how you will communicate at the speed of Twitter when a crisis strikes.

If the answer eludes you, call me at 985-624-9976. Your answer awaits.



The Doctor of Crisis Communications

Crisis communications doctor gerard braudIf you were a smoker and your doctor told you to stop or you would die of cancer, would you stop?

If you had diabetes and your doctor told you to change your diet so you don’t die, would you change?

Amazingly, there are people every day who ignore the advice of an expert and do the wrong thing. Some are stubborn. Some are in denial. Some just magically hope the problem will go away.

I’m watching two crisis communications patients die right now. As their doctor of crisis communications I submitted to each a plan of action that they could have taken long ago, when the early warning signs of a crisis were on the horizon. Both are major smoldering crises on the brink of igniting.

Time was on the side of each patient 60 days ago when they first contacted me. Time is now their enemy because the flash point has arrived and the media are writing stories on each. No messaging has been written. No news releases created. No media training has been conducted.

A doctor can’t miraculously cure cancer in a patient that has refused to listen to expert medical advice. Likewise, we in public relations are called upon too often to make miracles happen. We can’t always do it.

I could try to save each of these patients, but I know the effect of the communications we would do so late would be about 1/6th as effective as what was originally suggested. I know that this marginal benefit would cost them much more than the original plan, with less than satisfactory results. I don’t know that I want my name associated with a marginal response that lacks planning and execution.

Persuading audiences, engaging employees and communicating to the media takes time. Strategies are best done on a clear sunny day. Media training and writing a crisis communications plan should have been done weeks ago.

In one case, an organization will face very expensive legal bills and payouts. Their reputation will be damaged. People will likely get fired.

In another case, lawsuits will likely be filed, the institutions reputation will be damaged, I predict their revenue will fall, and there will be an employee revolt. The best employees will quit and go to work for their competition. Many angry employees will remain on the job, polluting the human resources culture for a decade or more. In the process, customer service will suffer, leading to a greater loss in revenue. This institution may also get gobbled up by a competitor as the value of the company drops.

Why do people ask for advice and ignore it? Who knows? They just do.

By Gerard Braud

Ebola School Crisis Communications Lesson: Ask for Help

school ebola gerard braudOf all the Power Point presentations by his leadership team members, the CEO only stood and applauded the vice president who showed he was having difficulties in his division, when the other vice presidents showed rainbows and green lights. The company was millions in debt with falling sales and the CEO knew that everyone who painted a rosy picture was either a liar or delusional. The one who asked for help was the star.

A colleague shared this story supporting my premise in my Ebola communication considerations blog. In the blog I suggested that public relations, marketing, media relations and crisis communication professionals will not be fired if they ask for help. Instead, your school administrators and leadership team will respect you for telling the truth and knowing that your truth may save the reputation and revenue of your school or university.

The field of communications is misunderstood, even by school leaders. Many school administrators hire one person to manage their image. They expect publicity. Often the president will hire a marketing specialist, never realizing that marketing is not public relations, media relations, or crisis communications. Sadly, many with an MEd or PhD don’t really understand the differences either.

Even in public relations, many do not realize how difficult it is to be a crisis communication expert. The expert is the one who prepares on a clear sunny day for what might happen on your darkest day. At the university level, most public relations classes touch on crisis communication as an evaluation of how well you manage the media after a crisis erupts. That is outdated and flawed. Preparation = professionalism.

Fearing reprisal from their leadership, some people in our allied fields would rather try to disguise their lack of knowledge and expertise rather than asking for help. The reality is the boss wants you to speak up and say, “I need help. This is beyond my level of expertise.” Most administrators, while never wanting to spend money they don’t have to spend, realize that getting help from an expert could preserve their reputation and revenue.

Don’t try to fake it. That will ultimately cost you your job, as well as the school’s reputation and revenue.

Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that.”

Free Webinar Recording Ebola Crisis Communication-1Ask for help.

If you’d like some FREE help, please listen to this free webinar recording that explores what you need to do today to prepare for your possible Ebola communications tomorrow.

– By Gerard Braud


5 Ebola School and University Crisis Communications Considerations

5 Ebola Considerations Gerard BraudYour personality type may decide the fate of your crisis communication response if the Ebola crisis touches your school or university. On one extreme is the personality that says, “It’s too soon. Maybe we should watch it and wait and see.” On the other extreme are those who say, “Heck, let’s get prepared. I’d rather be prepared and not need it than to be in the weeds if it hits us.”

If one of your employees or students gets Ebola or is perceived to possibly have Ebola or may have come in contact with an Ebola patient or a place where an Ebola victim has been or has come in contact with a person who came in contact with an Ebola victim, then the crisis now affects you. We’ve already seen schools in Ohio and Oklahoma close or request that students stay home, just for this very reason.

Here are 5 Ebola School Crisis Communication Considerations:

1) The Need is Real

Ebola may touch your school or university because of a person who is actually ill or because of rumors or hysteria. Either option may really happen, forcing you into reactive communications mode. You’ll need solid internal employee communications. You’ll need to communicate to parents. Depending upon the age of your students, you may need to communicate with them. You’ll need external media relations. You’ll need to fight the trolls and naysayers on social media. Why not start planning your strategy and messaging now? My belief and experience is that you can anticipate nearly every twist and turn on a clear sunny day, in order to manage effective communications on your darkest day.

2) Ask for Help

Many school administrators or systems hire one person to manage the image of their school. Often they will hire a marketing specialist, for example, never realizing that marketing is not public relations, media relations, or crisis communications. Fearing reprisal from their leadership, some people in our allied fields would rather try to disguise their lack of knowledge rather than ask for help. The reality is the boss wants you to speak up and say, “I need help. This is beyond my level of expertise.” Most leaders, while never wanting to spend money they don’t have to spend, realize that getting help from an expert could preserve their reputation and revenue. Don’t try to fake it. That will ultimately cost you your job, as well as the school’s reputation and revenue. Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that.” Ask for help.

3) Tie Ebola Communications to Cash Outflow and Reputation Damage

Preparing for communications you may or may not need will cost either time or money. It may cost both. But communications preparation can pay for itself.

Here are just a few considerations of doing nothing:

  •  The cost of rumors
  •  The cost of a single case linked back to your school
  •  The cost of a cluster of cases linked back to your school
  •  The cost of becoming synonymous with Ebola
  •  The cost of employee illness and lost productivity
  •  The cost of your school closing

Communications about precautions is step one. It may quarantine patient zero in your school and keep the virus and negative news from spreading, saving you huge sums of money in all of the categories listed above.

4) Plan Now

Don’t wait until you are in the middle of your crisis when you are forced into reactive mode. Proactive mode is the sign of a public relations professional. Now is the time to review your crisis communication plan and to determine if it is Ebola-ready. For some of you, now is the time to write that crisis communications plan that you have never written. Now is also the time to write messaging templates for before, during and after an event. Plus, now is the time to conduct media training for potential spokespeople and to conduct a crisis communications drill. Response should be planned and never reactive.

5) Be Opportunistic

If you haven’t been able to get a seat at the table or get the attention of your boss in the past for crisis communications, consider this your golden opportunity.

Opportunities to discuss crisis communications with the leadership team do not happen often enough. It takes a crisis that hits all schools equally to sometimes get their attention.

The opportunity for crisis communication planning and crisis management planning is upon us because of Ebola. Now is the time to initiate discussions with your school leaders. It is also useful to seek partners from other departments. Human resources, international student services, and residential life departments will all need to manage various portions of this crisis. Each are wonderful partners who may already have a seat at the table and who already may have the knowledge and skill to get the time and money needed to accomplish your tasks.

In the coming week I’ll share more lessons and insight with you. On Friday, October 17, 2014, I hosted a live discussion via webinar. You can listen to the replay for FREE with this link. On November 5 & 6, 2014 I’ll host a workshop in New Orleans that will allow you to create a 50 page crisis communications plan with up to 75 pre-written news releases. You’ll walk out of the workshop with a finished crisis communication plan and the skill to write even more pre-written news releases.

Remember, ask for help. If you need my help, please phone me at 985-624-9976.

Ebola Crisis Communication Planning and Crisis Management Planning for Schools and Universities

EBOLA webinar Gerard BraudShould your school or university begin getting your Ebola crisis communications plan and crisis management plan in place now? Some will think, “It is too soon.” But as one school in Dallas has discovered, an educational institution can become part of the Ebola crisis without warning.

If you are an administrator, a public relations professional, or a crisis management professional, NOW is the time to realize Crisis communication workshop gerard braudthat it only takes one case of Ebola to be associated with your institution for a world of media attention to descend upon you. Along with media scrutiny and hysteria, you will also have to deal with the online social media trolls. If you skip a beat… if you hesitate… if you are just slightly behind the story or the crisis, the institution you are associated with is treated like a 19th century leaper – no one wants to have anything to do with you. It becomes the ultimate crisis, defined by complete harm to your reputation and revenue.

Examine the case in Texas, in which Ebola patient Thomas Duncan has died at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. The airline, the TSA, the Boarder Patrol, the hospital, the apartment complex, the sheriff’s department, and the victim’s church, the school system, the Texas Department of Health, the Texas Governor, the Dallas County Medical Society, the Dallas County Coroner, and the mortuary that cremated his body are all suddenly players having to communicate about some aspect of this crisis. That means fourteen entities that were far removed from the crisis a few days ago are suddenly thrust into the crisis. Fourteen people, if not more, suddenly need to be a spokesperson about their portion of this crisis. Each suddenly needs a crisis communications expert. Even Louise Troh, Duncan’s longtime partner, has retained a public relations firm to speak on her behalf.

The piece-meal communications I’ve seen indicates that each of these entities are having to develop their crisis communication strategy on the fly. If they have a crisis communications plan, it appears none were updated prior to the crisis to address Ebola. In other instances, it is clear that no crisis communication plan exists, which is the reality for many organizations. And experience in reviewing a vast number of documents that public relations people call their crisis communication plan has proven that generally the document they call a crisis communications plan is woefully inadequate and in no way meets the criteria of a document that would guide and manage communications in a crisis.

Could your school or university suddenly be a small part of this bigger story? You bet.

Are the odds low? Maybe yes, maybe no?

Could that change quickly because of variables beyond your control? Absolutely.

Is the risk high enough that you should invest time and money to prepare? The vast majority of organizations say no, because they are in denial about how real the potential threat is. Yet it is a fool’s bet to stay unprepared, when the act of preparing can be done quickly and affordably. Furthermore, when done correctly, you can develop a crisis communications plan that will serve you for Ebola, as well as hundreds of other crises you may face in the future.

Is this line of thought logical? In my world it is very logical. I believe in being prepared. Yet experience tells me that this thought process will be rejected by the vast majority of you reading this and the vast majority of leaders and executives who run corporations, hospitals, non-profit organizations, schools, and small businesses. Human denial is a stronger power than the power to accept a simple option to prepare.

“We don’t need to worry about that,” is easier to say than, “Let’s get a team on this to prepare. The chances are slim, but if it happens it could damage our reputation forever.”

“Forever?” Is that too strong of a suggestion? Well, two weeks ago the Ivy Apartments in Dallas were a thriving, profitable business. Do you think anyone wants to move into those apartments after an Ebola victim has been there? Do you think existing residents will stay? The owners are already feeling the symptoms of damage to reputation and revenue.

Based on my crisis management and crisis communication experience, don’t be surprised if you see the Ivy Apartment complex bulldozed and the land left vacant for a time, all because they were, through no fault of their own, associated with a global crisis beyond their control. Could the same happen to a school? I think so.

What are the odds? Very small.

What is the reality? It could happen without warning.

Are you willing to roll the dice if you are an administrator? Are you ready to roll the dice if you are the public relations expert?

“Better safe than sorry,” is my suggested approach. Yet, “That won’t happen to us,” or “The chances of that happening to us is so small it isn’t worth out time and effort,” is what the vast majority of institutions will think or say.

In the coming week I’ll share more lessons and insight with you. On Friday, October 17, 2014, I’ll host a live discussion via webinar. Sign up for FREE with this link. On November 5 & 6, 2014 I’ll host a workshop in New Orleans that will allow you to create a 50 page crisis communications plan with up to 75 pre-written news releases. You’ll walk out of the workshop with a finished crisis communication plan and the skill to write even more pre-written news releases.

I’m available to answer your questions on this issue. Call me at 985-624-9976.


- Gerard Braud

What Schools and Universities Can Learn from the NFL’s Commitment to a One-Year Crisis: 7 Mistakes Causing the Crisis to Drag On

GoodellcrisisgerardbraudBy Gerard Braud

Schools and universities often let a crisis drag on longer than it should. What expert would allow a crisis to drag on? What expert would advise their client to let a crisis drag on for one year? I suspect the answer is zero. But many educational institutions are guilty of behaving the way the NFL is behaving.

Consider that 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 at your school or university.

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 plans. 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. Many schools and universities are guilty of taking too long to complete investigations.

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. A good leader would not allow the organization’s brand, reputation, and revenue to be tarnished over eight months. Many schools and universities hope they can hide facts. Many think that not everyone needs to know the truth. This is a serious sin.

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. The scrutiny and penalties placed on other players who were previously not clumped in with the Rice case now have their cases tainted because of poor crisis management and a 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 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. Schools and universities only need to recall the Penn State scandal to see correlation.

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 report on the true status of domestic violence among players. This means Goodell is tainting and over shadowing 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. At schools and universities, there is often a lack of trust by parents and students.

A few weeks ago when this crisis became front-page news, I called for Goodell to be suspended for one year for the same reason he suspended Saints coach Sean Peyton for a year. Payton’s suspension was based on the concept that the person at the top 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.

Keep this in mind at your school or university. Remember that you can be king today and the joker tomorrow.

NFL Crisis Management: 3 Steps Schools and Universities Should Follow for Good Ethics and Leadership in Crisis Management and Communications

goodell whateverBy Gerard Braud

Schools and universities often make the same bad ethical decisions we see the NFL making, which includes failure of crisis communications, failure of crisis management, and failure of leadership.

Today should be the day you have a discussion with your administration to learn the mistakes and keep them from ever happening at your school or university.

First, have good written plans. Crisis management requires having a written plan that can be followed in every crisis in order to manage the crisis, to formulate the communications, and to guide the thought process of the decision makers.

The written plan helps insure good crisis communications will happen because there will be honest and ethical leadership. Good, ethical leadership is doing and saying in private what you would do and say if the entire world were watching and listening.

Penn State’s child abuse scandal and the NFL likely suffer from the same behavior you may see at your school or university. 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 parents, students, athletic supporters, alumni and the community, as a way to protect their reputation and revenue.

This is never the correct way to manage a crisis.

The administration and crisis management 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 school or university must end the crisis and not kick the can down the road in cover up. The correct way for any school or university to protect its reputation and revenue is to end the crisis by doing the right thing the first time.

This includes:

1) Letting the world know the full extent of what has been 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. We’ve seen this happen at many schools and universities.

If my suspicions are true, just like when more truth came out about Penn State, I predict more truth will come out about what the NFL knew. 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 schools and universities 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.


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

At a school or university, athletes can be suspended or expelled, but administrators often must be fired for bad ethical decisions.

The Financial Impact of an Athletic Crisis on Schools and Universities

Adrian PetersonBy Gerard Braud

Schools and universities should be evaluating whether they have a plan when the crisis of another entity becomes their crisis, forcing upon them a crisis communications challenge. Any school or university athletic program could face the same crisis management and crisis communications challenges that we see in the NFL. When one crisis spreads, it causes damage to the reputation and revenue of various teams, players and sponsors.

Most schools and universities, I suspect, would be slow to respond to such a crisis. My expert advice would be that every school and university public relations team should stop today to study the unfolding NFL crisis. Each should look for vulnerabilities on their own campus, as well as other schools. School administrators need to be a part of those discussions.

You would think the NFL would have an inside or outside expert to advise them, but apparently the leadership is trying to manage this on their own, with bad results.

Radisson logoThe NFL crisis has spread to the Minnesota Vikings, as sponsor Radisson pulls its support. Radisson is the logo sponsor seen behind the coaches and players when they have news conferences. It is the place where Adrian Peterson’s coach and general manager stood to announce that Peterson would play this coming Sunday, even though he was benched after being charged with felony child abuse for reportedly using a switch on his four-year-old son.

Radisson’s online statement says they are evaluating the facts while suspending their sponsorship.

Radisson, likely fearing “guilt by association,” is a victim of failed crisis management and crisis communications by the NFL and Roger Goodell regarding Ray Rice. The crisis then went on to touch the Vikings, Peterson and now the hotel chain.

Many schools and universities have similar sponsors for their athletic events and teams. These sponsors are critical for funding, but can be quickly lost.

Had Goodell originally handled the Rice crisis properly, the league would not be under such heavy scrutiny for other players with various degrees of accusations of child or domestic abuse. Failure to manage the crisis then communicate the action plan is letting the smoldering crisis spread like a wild fire. Many people are getting burned.

Now the NFL has a bigger crisis than the original crisis. There are the allegations surrounding Rice and Peterson, as well as Ray Hardy of the Carolina Panthers and Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers.

Each player, each franchise, and the sponsors surrounding the teams, all need a crisis management plan and a crisis communications plan that will end each of their respective crises before each suffers damage to reputation and revenue.

In schools and universities, issues of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, rape and other sexual offenses are common. Have a plan to deal with these crises early, or suffer the fate of the NFL.

What Schools and Universities Can Learn: NFL Misses a Crisis Management and Crisis Communication Opportunity on Sunday

Roger goodell gerard braudBy Gerard Braud

School and university administrators are often slow to communicate in a crisis and fail to execute true crisis management. I’ve watched educational institutions ruin their reputation and lose revenue by being slow to respond, much like we see happening in the NFL.

For example, 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. Like many schools and universities, the NFL is moving slow. Slow response only makes the crisis worsen and last longer.

Fans continue to call for Goodell to be fired. Is there another option for crisis management and crisis communications shy of Goodell’s termination? And, can it be done quickly?

Sometimes the best plan is to look for a creative solution that hasn’t yet been considered in the crisis. I’ve seen schools and universities also fail to look for creative ways to manage and end a 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 brought 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.

Consider 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, Goodell said that as the head coach, it happened on Payton’s watch. Payton, as the top leader, was held responsible by Goodell.

Sean PaytonSo, many call for Goodell to be fired as Goodell 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 when the executive’s words and actions are one in the same. Are the executive’s 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.