Your reputation shouldn’t be left for less
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Before Jeff Caponigro’s career in public relations, he was a reporter and columnist for three Michigan newspapers.  One of the columns he wrote for the Midland Daily News was chosen for publication in the hardcover book, Best Sports Stories – 1978, along with the likes of some of the best sportswriters of the time from Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, the New York Times and others.  Jeff was inducted into Central Michigan University’s Journalism Hall of Fame in 2009.

  When your reputation is on the line, call for CPR  


The National Football League, one of the largest and most successful brands and businesses in the world, is flailing from an array of crisis situations making the once high and mighty now appear limp and feeble in its efforts to "Protect the Shield."  It all should scare those in business – from CEOs to directors to managers to line employees -- who hope their companies remain strong and viable navigating the gauntlet of possible crisis situations themselves. 

Here are some lessons all those in business can learn from the NFL turmoil:

  • Nothing is more important than reputation.  Without a positive reputation, customer and employee loyalty eventually erodes and sales and finances suffer – often irreparably.  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, with his reported annual compensation of $44 million, was known as a smart and highly competent chief executive.  Now, his actions are under a microscope and “Goodell Must Go” banners are flown over some NFL stadiums – reminding us how fleeting success can be in business when credibility, trust and reputation suffer. 
  • Prevent vulnerabilities from hijacking your reputation.  A reputation is fragile.  It can take years and often decades to earn a positive reputation, and it can be lost when a business isn’t prepared for a crisis and then experiences a pattern of mismanagement or lack of leadership that belies everything previously conveyed.  Businesses need to identify vulnerabilities and address them in advance to ensure they don’t become crisis situations.  The NFL reportedly has had 83 domestic-violence cases against its players since 2000.  Problems with a much shorter history shouldn’t be swept under a rug, no less when red flags are waving so desperately to this degree. 
  • Be prepared to avoid the avalanche.  We have seen how the NFL has been forced to take strong, swift action or face the consequences for failing to do so.  And not just the Ray Rice situation that is well-documented, but the 49ers’ Ray MacDonald, the Panthers’ Greg Hardy and now the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson have seen momentum seemingly change decisions of the teams involved or the league itself.  The NFL has been inconsistent and uncertain in its enforcement and punishment and sports and news media, talk radio, social media and online blogs and special-interest groups have been unrelenting.  A short window of time is typically provided for a business to prove it is properly managing a crisis.  After that, the feeding frenzy begins and won’t end until a carcass is exposed.
  • Don’t short-change screening process of prospective employees.  The old adage, “A bad apple spoils the whole barrel,” is so true in business as in the National Football League.  The NFL experience has shown us how pervasive violence can be with some employees – due to their upbringing and other factors – and how alcohol and drug abuse coupled with the stress of the business can be dangerous for all.  Psychological testing, background checks and other forms of vetting prospective employees can’t be avoided or short-changed.
  • Don’t let bad news keep the crisis going.  It seems a new crisis is reported nearly every day of late with the National Football League.  Most are separate incidents involving one or more of the 2,500 current NFL players, but others involving the same player certainly could have been handled so a potential one-day story doesn’t turn into one that picks up steam as public-opinion and dissension grow.  The Ray Rice situation is a textbook example.  If a business has to communicate bad news, it always is best to do it all at one time and not allow a bloodletting by multiple cuts. 
  • Learn from others.  Every business executive should look at all crisis situations as a clinic to consider how a similar situation, albeit on a different scale, would be handled by their organizations and themselves.  The greatest lesson to learn almost always is the importance of preparation.  What are our vulnerabilities?  What would we do if one or more turned into a crisis?  What can we do to prevent the vulnerability from becoming a crisis?  Who would expect to hear from us and how?  Who would represent our business in communicating information about it?  How can we ensure our reputation doesn’t suffer needless damage that could take months or years to repair?

For those of us in the PR/crisis business, the National Football League these days is less about the on-field action and more about ways businesses can learn from crisis situations.  Anyone in business is well served by doing the same.



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