The NFL and its Lingering PR Problem

The National Football League is arguably the most popular sporting league in the world. It won’t remain that way unless there’s a better effort to discipline players who consistently damage its reputation. Roger Goodell & Co. conduct business as usual with a “too big to fail” mentality, but if they don’t address this pressing issue soon it could lead to harsh consequences for the league and each of its 32 NFL franchises.

Since the Super Bowl in February, 27 active NFL players have been arrested for a number of different crimes. Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is one of those 27, pinned with murder and five related gun charges just two short weeks ago. I thought the Plaxico Burress and Michael Vick incidents would be enough to push the NFL to make drastic changes to its player misconduct policies, but apparently not.

The league’s public relations crisis should be broken down, analyzed and mitigated with a strategic plan. The NFL has the reputation as the most competitive football league in the world, but off-field issues involving players continue to damage that reputation. Decision makers have been reactive instead of proactive in combating player misconduct. To salvage the league’s image and restore credibility with the fans, media, and other stakeholders, these steps should be taken by the NFL:

  1. Set a long-term goal that will be the main focus of your efforts. In this case, “Decrease the number of off-field player incidents.”
  2. Establish strategies, which are the broad approaches you’ll take to achieve the goal. Revising player misconduct policies and enforcing stricter penalties and repercussions are a few good examples.
  3. Identify measurable objectives that will be used to see if the strategies are being met. Banning or suspending players who act out could be an objective that’s easily measured to see if player misconduct decreases due to increased player bans and indefinite suspensions.
  4. Tactics need to be implemented to achieve the already set strategies and objectives on a day-to-day basis. Working with the press to get the message out about revised policies and forcing players to seek professional help to fix behavioral issues are a few useful tactics that will aid in achieving long-term goals.

This problem is not going away anytime soon. It’s imperative for the NFL to take action and not just expect the problem to fix itself. Like any successful PR campaign, a lot of planning, research and good execution will lead to better results for the league.

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Changing Perceptions of a Misunderstood Profession

The negative and often misunderstood perception of public relations professionals and the entire industry has been a thorn in the industry’s paw for decades. We’re managing the reputations and images of clients we represent, but what’s being done to change the negative perceptions of our own industry?

The C-suite is beginning to realize the value of public relations toward the overall success of an organization. We have a seat at the table, but we need to prove we deserve to be there and demonstrate how important the communications function is. If we want the respect we deserve as a profession, we need to take our education and training and use it to improve our own profession’s reputation.

The negative views of our work were molded by the media, Hollywood and unethical practices over the years. There’s are common misconceptions about what we do as PR professionals. We’re not all publicists doing damage control for celebrities and other public figures. We don’t lie. We dont spin the truth.

Our work is very strategic, and much of it involves building better relationships between organizations and the public.

If we’re hoping to improve our industry’s reputation and gain trust and respect among the public, we must:

  • Highlight and enforce our Code of Ethics to ensure the profession continues to be positively perceived in the eyes of the public.
  • Change the stigma of PR pros being flacks or spin doctors. Transparency and openness is crucial toward the success of our profession for the long term. Make people aware of our practices and try to educate and inform.
  • Practice Corporate Social Responsibility by supporting communities and people we work with. These good deeds humanize our industry and make it clear that philanthropy, not profit, is at the heart of what we do.
  • Use appropriate measurement standards to tie in PR plans and strategies to the bottom line of a company. Use data and analytics to show the value of PR programs and how they contribute to business goals.

This is clearly not an extensive list, but surely a good approach toward a new direction for this industry. The work we do for clients is invaluable, and good practices, ethics and deeds will help change the perceptions of a misunderstood profession.